By TOM TROY
Blade Politics Writer
The Democratic and Republican candidates for Ohio governor jabbed at each other’s records in an hourlong televised debate Thursday night at the University of Toledo.
Incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland called Republican John Kasich “the congressman from Wall Street” while saying his administration has made steady progress in a national recession.
Kasich, a former Columbus-area congressman, promised to restore the canceled third year of a state income tax cut and contended Gov. Strickland has been ‘asleep at the wheel’ while Ohio’s business standing has plummeted.
The debate, the second and last planned televised forum, was held before a ticket-only live audience at the Driscoll Alumni Center on UT’s Bancroft Street campus.
It was sponsored by the Ohio Newspaper Organization, a consortium of the state’s eight largest newspapers, including The Vindicator and The Blade, and broadcast by WTOL, Channel 11, and nationally on C-SPAN.
Four Ohio journalists, including Vindicator editorial page editor Dennis Mangan, asked questions, while WTOL anchorman Jerry Anderson moderated.
Strickland said he has balanced two budgets, extended the homestead exemption to give seniors a break in property taxes, frozen college tuition for two years, and supported policies that move the state in the direction of alternative energy jobs.
“We will have the largest solar farm built east of the Rocky Mountains, built in Ohio. We will be the first state to put wind out in Lake Erie,” Strickland said.
Kasich said he’s found Ohioans to be “nervous, frustrated, and some just downright scared about the economic situation.”
“Over the last four years since Ted Strickland’s been governor there have been 41 other states in America that have outperformed us,” Kasich said. “We have rising poverty; we have rising homelessness. We also have, since the governor’s been here, rising taxes.”
They argued over tax policy, with Kasich asserting that “Ted Strickland will raise taxes. I will not.”
“When you’re one of the highest taxed states, you have to move aggressively to lower those rates,” Kasich said.
Strickland said in the news conference after the debate that he thought it would be irresponsible to make a commitment not to raise taxes.
And he said Kasich was inaccurate in accusing him of raising taxes.
He said he froze taxes at their current level to avoid cutting $851 million from college and K-12 education.
“That would have been devastating to our kids and to our schools. I wasn’t willing to do that. Apparently he was,” Strickland said.
He accused Kasich of laying the groundwork for an increase in property taxes to pay for schools.
After the debate, Ohio Education Association President Patricia Frost-Brooks issued a statement contending that Kasich “wants to dismantle Ohio’s school funding formula, developed by Strickland as the evidence-based model. But Mr. Kasich has no clear plan to replace the revenue....
“Kasich risks core support for Ohio schools by threatening to repeal the Ohio income tax, source of 30 percent of all school revenues. Moving ahead with more tax cuts would have cut thousands of public school jobs this school year.
“Contrary to Mr. Kasich’s assertions in the debate, there are no unfunded mandates in the education legislation. ... Mr. Kasich’s plans to add more private school vouchers and expand school choice programs while tinkering with school district shared services.”
cannot restore steady funding to school districts. Nor can it replace the fair and constitutional funding system now being phased in.”
Regarding the cost of public pensions, both supported addressing the matter. Strickland said he is troubled by double dipping, and called for the release of records sought by the state’s large-city newspapers to continue investigating the public employee pension funds, as long as personal information is not divulged.
“I do not want to lower the standards of public benefits and retirement benefits for anyone, but it is absolutely necessary that we recognize this fiscal condition of our public pension systems and come together and work to find a reasonable solution,” the governor said.
Kasich called for a review of double-dipping.
He said pensions and job security used to offset the lower pay that government workers received, but now, he said, people in the private sector tell him they envy the pay government employees receive.
“Ohioans are getting very concerned about the potential of a giant tab being put on them as they work in the private sector,” Kasich said. “But we have to be careful. We have to protect people who are retired and who are getting close to being retired.”
Strickland blasted Kasich’s former job with Lehman Brothers, saying that the firm’s bankruptcy cost Ohio pension systems more than $480 million.
On exports and trade policy, Kasich cited the recent Blade series, “Shut Down & Shipped Out,” which examined the loss of about 140 factories in northwest Ohio since 2000, as proof that Ohio is losing more jobs to other states than to China.
“In Indiana, their costs are lower,” Kasich said.
Strickland told Kasich, “What you have done, Congressman, is outsource jobs.”
Strickland said Kasich opposed the bailouts of the General Motors and Chrysler automakers.
“If my opponent and his friends had their way, there would likely be no surviving auto industry in America,” Strickland said, making a point he likely hoped would strike a chord in auto-dependent Toledo and the Mahoning Valley.
“All you and your friends want to do is just criticize and say no, no, no. While we’ve been working here in Ohio to create jobs, you’ve been working on Wall Street to outsource jobs,” the governor said.
An exasperated Kasich said, “It’s like a broken record, you gotta get over that.’