No answer from GM on future of Lordstown plant, DeWine tells Vindy

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Vindy Exclusive - Mike DeWine - Current State of Lordstown

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Ohio Governor Mike DeWine visited The Vindicator Tuesday, March 12, 2019, to discuss the current state of Lordstown and his meeting with General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

Vindy Exclusive - Mike DeWine

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Gov. Mike DeWine said he’s been given no indication from General Motors that the automaker plans to use the idled Lordstown plant, but “it’s pretty clear they’re having discussions” with a company or companies about taking over the facility.

“My focus is to do everything to get jobs back in that plant, understanding that our hands are really tied until there is some movement from General Motors,” he told The Vindicator editorial board Tuesday. “They still own the plant. If General Motors would tell us today X company is interested, here’s what they want to do, we can contact X company and start working with them on what we can put together” as far as an incentive package.

GM is not sharing that information with state officials, however, DeWine said, which makes it difficult to assist a company that may use the Lordstown facility.

But the governor added GM “might let us know in four to six weeks.”

“The plant will be maintained in a safe and secure status, and the property will continue to be owned by GM,” Cheryl McCarron, a GM spokeswoman, wrote in an email when asked to address DeWine’s comments. “Long-term disposition of the facility will be determined during the UAW/GM contract negotiations later this year.

“Other than that, we are not going to speculate,” she added.

DeWine told the editorial board the state was eager to help, saying “this is a priority.”

“At some point, if we’re going to help, we have to be involved. The sooner we can be involved, the earlier we can start helping. You can’t help in a vacuum. You can’t help when you don’t know who you’re dealing with. You can’t help when there’s no one to talk to.”

The final Chevrolet Cruze rolled off the GM Lordstown assembly line a week ago today. The plant last employed about 1,600 workers.

United Auto Workers members and area politicians are holding out hope GM will put a new product at the closed Lordstown facility, but DeWine said: “It’s clear to me that they’re looking not at putting a new line of General Motors [vehicles] in there.”

DeWine also was asked about bipartisan efforts in the Ohio House to eliminate House Bill 70, also referred to as the Youngstown Plan.

The bill was signed into law in July 2015 by then-Gov. John Kasich and enables a state-appointed academic distress commission to hire a CEO to lead poor-performing school districts, taking away local control. Youngstown was the first in the state affected by the law, and it has since happened at school districts in Lorain and East Cleveland.

The law allows that to occur when a district gets three-straight F grades on the state report card.

DeWine said he is “very open” to a discussion on changing the law, but first wants a report from Paola DeMaria, the state superintendent of public instruction, to be released that provides recommendations. The report is done and should be made public shortly, he said.

“I don’t know anybody very happy with the status quo, but we cannot turn our back on these schools,” DeWine said. “More importantly, we cannot turn our back on these children, so doing nothing is not an option.”

While not giving specifics, DeWine said, “This is striking the right balance between local control while at the same time making changes and not accepting the status quo. Striking the right balance between all those things is not easy.”

DeWine, a Republican, also said he’s holding out hope the state Legislature will back his plan to raise the state’s gas tax by 18 cents a gallon with annual increases adjusted for inflation.

That, however, seems unlikely.

The Republican-controlled Ohio House approved a bill last week with a gas tax of 10.7 cents a gallon over two years and not adjusted for inflation. The state Senate, also controlled by Republicans, has not embraced DeWine’s proposal, with leaders saying any increase would need to be offset by a reduction in the state income tax.

DeWine said if the Senate goes along with the House version, “it will stifle economic development” in the state. “It would just be a real mistake,” he said.

The House bill wouldn’t add funding for any new projects.

The governor’s office provided a list of Mahoning Valley projects that couldn’t be done without new funding. These include:

New interchanges to connect state Route 11 to the Ohio Turnpike and to Niles Vienna Road.

A new interchange on Interstate 80 at state Route 304.

The southern portion of the state Route 82 beltway.

Finishing the widening of Western Reserve Road from Market Street to Interstate 680.

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