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Time for Gov. Kasich to begin speaking with more specificity

Published: Mon, February 28, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

Gov. John Kasich came to the Ma- honing Valley on Thursday at the invitation of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and gave the speech he’s been giving across the state to other gatherings, including other chambers of commerce.

It is a speech that pledges change and implicitly promises that his vision of change will make Ohio a better place in which to live, without ever specifically saying how.

It is essentially a campaign speech, which worked for him four months ago, but Ohioans should be demanding more of a governor than they did of a campaigner.

Presumably, this speech, which is built on the premise that Ohio has an anti-business climate and everyone knows it, has an effective life of about another week.

In his speech, Kasich talks about Ohio starting out at the 5-yard line while other states start at the 20, making it that much harder for Ohio to score an economic-development touchdown.

And he holds up as examples of states with better ideas Florida, Texas, Indiana, Illinois, and even Nevada. Yet most of those states have unemployment figures that are not appreciably better than Ohio’s, and while Texas may be booming, its budget has increased by 60 percent over the last decade to $182 billion for the present biennium, and it is managing to balance its books thanks to an influx of $14 billion in federal stimulus funding.

A week from tomorrow, Kasich will give his State of the State address, and then he will have to present not a vision for the future, but a budget for the next two years.

Even the state’s numbers for one of Kasich’s signature pieces of legislation, S.B. 5, are cause for concern. The philosophical questions regarding collective bargaining aside, the real issue is saving money. A study released by the state Office of Collective Bargaining, shows the bill would have saved an estimated $1.3 billion in 2010 on health insurance and automatic pay increases for public employees in the state.

By the numbers

But a breakdown of those numbers shows the state would have saved $217 million, while the savings for schools and local governments would have topped $1.1 billion.

Certainly $217 million is nothing to be sneezed at, and the potential savings for local governments and schools are cumulatively significant. But it is hardly a deal-maker in the overall scheme of balancing a state budget that is as much as $8 billion out of kilter. Local government officials might not want to start making plans for the $1.2 billion they could save if S.B. 5 passes, because they might find that every dollar of that and more is lost to them by cuts in appropriations to them from the state local government fund. If that’s what the governor does, then, indeed, he is managing to take a bigger bite out off the $8 billion deficit, but local governments and schools will be no further ahead.

The largest new potential source of revenue for the state could come from leasing the Ohio Turnpike to private investors. When Republican Kenneth Blackwell made that part of his gubernatorial campaign in 2006, it was likely the beginning of a downward spiral for the candidate. But Blackwell also took the shock value off the proposal, and Kasich may be able to capitalize on that. We still think selling an asset that has been built by turnpike users over a half century and converting the proceeds to bail out the general fund is literally robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is neither fiscally nor intellectually conservative. It is a governor slaughtering a cash cow because he is desperate and, if he pulls it off, because he has the votes in the General Assembly.

We’re not saying that Kasich didn’t inherit economic challenges when he took office in January, though the challenges are arguably fewer in number and less in severity than those President Obama inherited when he took office in Washington two years ago. The lesson there is that voters seem to forget pretty quickly about what was inherited and what was of an elected official’s own making.

Kasich will be appearing before a numerically friendly audience when he gives his State of the State address to the Ohio Senate and House next week. But it’s going to take more than the applause lines he’s been living on the last month to give Ohioans an idea of just how Kasich intends to cure whatever ails the state.

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