Senate Republicans must not rush to judgment on JobsOhio

It took the Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives less than a month to pass a bill that stands the state’s economic development system on its head. Such a drastic change demanded thoughtful deliberation, especially considering that secrecy is one of the underpinnings of the new plan. Instead, GOP leaders rammed the legislation through, and in the process rode roughshod over the concerns and amendments presented by the minority Democrats.

The bill creating Republican Gov. John Kasich’s JobsOhio goes to the GOP-led Senate, where it will again be put on a fast track unless leaders show more respect for the legislative process. Just because the votes are in place to pass the legislation creating the non-profit, private/public entity doesn’t mean the Democrats have nothing to contribute.

Indeed, the creation of the nine-member private board chaired by Gov. Kasich should give every legislator pause. Why? Because the board would have enormous investment and contract power without having to adhere to the rules and regulations that apply to public entities. The lack of transparency and oversight should worry every taxpayer because while JobsOhio is being touted by Kasich as a private sector answer to a failed, bureaucratic Ohio Department of Development, hundreds of millions in public dollars will still be flowing through the new entity.

Start-up expenses

In fact, the bill allows Development Director Mark Kavamme to use $1 million in the agency’s existing funds to finance the start up of JobsOhio. The governor has said he plans to ask the private sector for money.

Ohio’s open meetings and public records laws will not apply to the new organization, which should be of concern to government watchdogs. While members of the board will not be paid, they could receive bonuses.

The state inspector general would be allowed to investigate complaints filed against the board, but he would not have the same authority he now has to investigate other agencies.

JobsOhio would produce an annual report detailing the names and salaries of staff members, while an independent certified public accountant would conduct a yearly financial audit.

Republican State Auditor David Yost would have authority to audit all public funds handled by the panel, but the private dollars would not be open to scrutiny. That means the sources of the contributions would not be known to the public. Such secrecy is not conducive to good government. And yet, Kasich insists that Ohio’s job-creation failures and its inability to compete with other states are the result of economic development being in the public spotlight.

Privacy concerns

The governor contends that companies interested in locating in Ohio want privacy. But that’s what the current system is based on — confidentiality.

However, the spending of taxpayer dollars is the public’s business.

Senate Republicans have the chance to show that bipartisanship is possible, even in this highly charged political climate. Democrats deserve to participate fully in the debate on JobsOhio.

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