State Auditor Yost is justified in targeting JobsOhio’s books

There’s nothing “complicated” — the word used by Ohio Gov. John Kasich — about JobsOhio, the so-called private economic development agency that has received more than $5 million in taxpayer money. The moment the entity, which replaced the Ohio Department of Development, received public dollars, it gave up the right to operate in secret.

Despite the governor’s insistence that state Auditor David Yost does not have the authority to examine JobsOhio’s books as they pertain to the private dollars it receives, the facts suggest otherwise.

Yost, a Republican like Kasich, has subpoenaed JobsOhio’s books to determine how the taxpayer-provided state liquor profits are used to attract private financing. His insistence on transparency is not only good public policy, but is necessitated by the reality that $5.3 million in state grants were awarded to the agency and its subsidiary in fiscal 2012. The Columbus Dispatch newspaper first revealed the amount of public dollars that have flowed into Gov. Kasich’s creation.

In 2011, the Republican controlled Ohio General Assembly allocated $1 million to cover startup costs. Democrats, along with government watchdog groups and newspapers around the state, questioned how privatizing the Ohio Department of Development was good governance.

The entity was created by Kasich and Republican lawmakers to administer the state’s economic development programs. But from the outset, concerns were raised about the “private” designation, given that it is leading the state’s job-creation endeavors.

In addition, JobsOhio’s authority to establish new state appropriations and debt, while being able to hide deliberations on business incentive from public view, was seen as a blatant attempt to violate Ohio’s open meetings and public records laws.

Government works best in the spotlight of public scrutiny. Any attempt to keep taxpayers from monitoring how their dollars are being spent feeds the suspicion that not everything is above board.

Now, with the governor and Republican legislative leaders objecting to Auditor Yost’s demand for access to all JobsOhio’s financial records, the following question will certainly be asked: What is the quasi-government agency trying to hide?

Kasich insists the situation is more “complicated” than what Yost says, and he argues that the private sector money should not to be viewed in the same way as the public dollars.

Persuasive argument

But as the state auditor persuasively argues, the state liquor profits attract the private sector money. Thus, the distinction is a matter of semantics, rather than good government accounting.

“The governor and I have the same goal: to make sure JobsOhio’s money is working for the people of Ohio — creating jobs and growing this economy for our families,” Yost said in explaining his subpoena. “It’s important to look at the total picture. The private bond proceeds trace directly back to the public money.”

The governor and Republican legislative leaders must know they are simply confirming what many taxpayers believe about government: Special interests hold sway.

What Auditor Yost is seeking in his audit of all JobsOhio’s books is not unreasonable. The governor’s opposition to such transparency is ill-advised.

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