The Kasich administration need only look at the 2008 general election to appreciate the strong, bipartisan support the Clean Ohio program has enjoyed since it was launched in 2000. But if Republican Gov. John Kasich has any misgivings, he should talk to former Republican Gov. Bob Taft who created the program.
Kasich should also talk to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who as speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives was a strong advocate for the continuation of the program in 2008. Husted joined Republican Senate President Bill Harris, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, who lost his re-election bid to Kasich in November 2010, and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in urging Ohioans to approve a ballot issue for the continuation of Clean Ohio.
Issue 2, approved by the voters, authorized $400 million in bonds to pay for brownfield revitalization and green space preservation. The funds were split 50-50. Clean Ohio was first approved by voters in 2000 with the Taft administration making the case that old industrial regions like the Mahoning Valley desperately need state government’s intervention to deal with all the abandoned industrial sites that have deeply rooted environmental problems.
The city of Youngstown under former Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro earned a national reputation for its aggressive brownfields recovery program that has resulted in several successful industrial parks. Taft saw Clean Ohio as a means of bolstering such initiatives.
But there is now a possibility that Clean Ohio will die on the political vine unless Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly act to continue it after its June 30, 2012, expiration date.
In a letter to the governor, Mahoning County Treasurer Daniel R. Yemma, whose office was instrumental in creating the county’s land bank program, warned that without Clean Ohio, progress on brownfield redevelopment and open space preservation in the Valley will “abruptly cease.”
The last round of funding for the program will be in January.
Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti, who as a former member of Youngstown City Council had first-hand knowledge of the benefits of the program, offered a cogent argument for Clean Ohio’s continuation:
“If we’re going to promote economic development in this area, we need help” from the state and federal governments.
In response to a question from Vindicator Reporter Peter Milliken about the future of the program, Rob Nichols, the governor’s press secretary, stopped short of saying the administration will do whatever is necessary to continue Clean Ohio.
While acknowledging its success and importance, Nichols said, “As we transition from state-run job-growth efforts to efforts run by the private-sector experts at Jobs Ohio, every function is being evaluated to determine the best way to do it going forward.”
We would remind the governor, the General Assembly and the private-sector “experts” that it was the private sector — in the case of the Valley major steel companies — that caused the brownfield problem in the first place. They walked away from their responsibilities as corporate citizens, leaving local governments and communities with abandoned factories and heavily polluted sites.
It’s one thing for Kasich to push privatization of various government functions. It’s another for him to abandon his responsibility as governor to the old industrial regions of the state.