Speech’s timing lets Kasich sell big ideas


AP Statehouse Correspondent


By timing the address to follow his major budget, tax reform and school funding proposals, Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s annual State of the State speech Tuesday in Lima will feel more like a stump speech for 2014 than the typical litany of big policy initiatives.

The Republican governor will use the speech to promote his latest ideas for the state, rather than announce them.

He’s said as much.

“For those that are thinking that they want to come to Lima on the 19th for a whole bunch of new things in the State of the State, don’t come,” he said in unveiling his $63.2 billion, two-year budget this month. “Because I think we’ve got it all out on the field right now.”

For the second consecutive year, Kasich is taking the address outside Columbus, and outside the Statehouse, where pro-labor protesters packed the halls and sent up disruptive shouts during his first address in 2011.

Last year, Kasich made history when he first gave the speech elsewhere, picking the Democratic and union stronghold of Steubenville to highlight positives he said were taking place in economically hard-hit eastern Ohio, particularly surrounding K-12 education and oil and gas exploration.

With Lima, in northwest Ohio, Kasich has found a manufacturing hub with significantly improved employment, which also sits in the heart of reliably Republican farm country. The new leader of the Ohio Senate that’s sometimes block Kasich’s plans, President Keith Faber of Celina, lives nearby.

Located about 80 miles south of Toledo, Lima was built around factories that made locomotives and school buses. Heavy industry still drives the city, home to an oil refinery, a Ford Motor Co. engine plant and the nation’s only tank manufacturing plant.

Like many of Ohio’s industrial cities, poverty is a problem in some neighborhoods, but the city’s unemployment has been nearly cut in half from two years ago and now stands at 7 percent.

President Barack Obama’s campaign rally just days before the election last November marked the first time a sitting Democratic president visited Lima since Harry Truman stopped there in 1948. In the end, Obama’s rival, Republican Mitt Romney, handily won Allen County last year, scoring 61 percent of the vote to Obama’s 37 percent.

By reversing the usual speech-then-budget pattern of past governors, the former congressman is following a classic campaign format: Announce a big policy initiative, then hit the road to sell its merits.

“He’s trying to seize the initiative a little bit, kind of take a proactive approach,” said Grant Neeley, a political scientist at the University of Dayton. “It’s the second time he’s taking the State of the State address outside the capital, so he feels like it’s a more receptive audience. He’s trying to paint himself as a proactive governor coming forward with all those proposals kind of rapid-fire.”

To review:

In mid-December, Kasich announced his plan to borrow against future toll revenue on the Ohio Turnpike to generate up to $3 billion for highway and bridge construction projects

On Jan. 9, the private nonprofit job-creation entity Kasich created, JobsOhio, announced with the administration that it was moving forward with the sale of $1.5 billion in bonds backed by future state liquor proceeds — disregarding a pending lawsuit against the entity’s constitutionality.

On Jan. 31, the administration released its much-anticipated overhaul of Ohio’s school funding formula. Kasich said the aim was helping students in poor districts compete by narrowing tax-base disparities, while rewarding innovation and expanding access to vouchers. The plan gave an overall boost to the K-12 bottom line, proposing $15.1 billion in spending over two years, but left the bulk of individual districts with little to no increase in the first year.

Four days later, Kasich unveiled a budget packed with significant policy overhauls. They included a restructuring of Ohio’s tax code to phase in reductions to income and small-business taxes and applying the state sales tax, at a slightly lower rate, to long list of additional services. The budget also incorporates an expansion of Medicaid through the federal health care overhaul, the new K-12 school-funding formula, and a new way of funding public colleges and universities that fosters cost-saving collaboration and emphasizes college completion over enrollment.

Mark Cassell, an associate political science professor at Kent State University, said Kasich’s budget and school funding package is “very mixed” for Ohioans. By laying out the plan ahead of the State of the State, the governor has given himself a forum to defend it.

“There’s a bit of smoke and mirrors in there,” Cassell said. “In the last budget, he pushed along these draconian cuts to the local level. He can now proclaim to be very generous to those local governments and schools, while offering these tax cuts. But broadening the sales tax will mean rising costs for everyone, and the poor will be hit the hardest.”

Cassell said, “I think he genuinely believes these things are going to work to improve the state’s economy.” The State of the State will be his chance to sell them.

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