You know the Republican majori- ty in the Ohio General Assembly, with the full backing of Republican Gov. John Kasich, are up to no good when they push through a measure so quickly that not even the officeholder directly affected by it is given a chance to testify. And to add insult to injury, the officeholder is a Republican.
Last week, the House and Senate added an amendment to an innocuous bill that says the state wholesale liquor profits are private when they are used by JobsOhio, the so-called private economic development agency created by Kasich and his Republican allies in Columbus.
What’s at stake? At least $100 million. The money is generated from the sale of bonds backed by the profits from the state’s monopoly on liquor sales. JobsOhio will use the annual revenue to award grants and loans for economic development projects and fund a state program that pays for the cleanup and redevelopment of commercial and industrial sites.
Yet, Kasich and his cohorts in the General Assembly insist that it’s nobody’s business how JobsOhio spends the money. It especially isn’t any concern of Ohio Auditor David Yost, a Republican who has gone to the mat with the governor over the need for full transparency with regard to the development agency’s operation.
LEADERS THROW YOST TO THE SIDE
Yost has obviously become an irritant and isn’t being a good party foot soldier, so the GOP majority in the Legislature has neutered him by pushing through the amendment. The message to Yost is clear: Back off. What JobsOhio does with $100 million is outside your realm of responsibilities as the state auditor.
Who will audit the books? A private firm appointed by the auditor and JobsOhio.
To understand just how committed the governor and his GOP colleagues are to keeping the public in the dark about JobsOhio, consider this comment from Kasich about the amendment as reported by the Columbus Dispatch:
“Number one, it says what we intended it to say, which is the liquor money is private money. JobsOhio is a private organization. And that’s most important.”
Translation: I am the decider when it comes to determining what’s private and what’s public.
Kasich and Republicans in the General Assembly are going down a dangerous path of governance.
State Auditor Yost must not give up the fight for transparency.
GET ATTORNEY GENERAL INVOLVED
Indeed, this is an issue that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine should delve into, given his strong commitment to the state’s public records and open meetings laws. DeWine, a Republican, has long championed transparency in government and has continued a tradition of Ohio attorneys general in attempting to educate public officials and the public about the state’s Sunshine laws. Those are a body of law that has evolved over the last 40 years to cover public meetings and open records.
It seems to us that the governor and Republicans in the General Assembly are in need of a refresher course.
Meanwhile, we would urge DeWine, as the state’s chief lawyer, to review what has transpired with the JobsOhio amendment and to let the people of Ohio know whether the distinction being made between private money and public money is legitimate.