Priorities face legislative scrutiny

Gov. Mike DeWine hit the right notes on several priorities in his State of the State address, legislators from the Mahoning Valley said, but how many of them will survive scrutiny and be funded after review by the General Assembly?

During last year’s State of the State, DeWine listed several priorities with some getting passed, such as clamping down on driving while texting and investing in Appalachia. Others went nowhere, like increasing penalties for “dangerous felons.”

The Valley’s state legislative delegation had largely positive things to say about DeWine’s speech and his priorities. But compliments on the annual address are typical, particularly from fellow Republicans. Providing money for requests DeWine seeks is another story, and Valley legislators will play a key role in that.

State Reps. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield; Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta; and Monica Robb Blasdel, R-Columbiana; were named by House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, to the powerful House Budget Committee, where the governor’s spending plan will be vetted. The three legislators were loyal to Stephens in his speaker battle against state Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova, who had support of a majority of House Republicans for the job. That loyalty was rewarded with the appointments.

Like last year, DeWine focused attention during Tuesday’s address on providing resources to improve mental health. One of his accomplishments last year was the creation of OhioRise, a specialized program to help children with mental health issues.

This year, DeWine wants to create a new cabinet-level agency, called the Department of Children and Youth, as well as expand counseling services, spend more on pediatric behavioral health and crisis response resources, and create a suicide hotline.

State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, said focusing on mental health is vital to the future of Ohio.

Rulli said some domestic issues, suicides and addictions, among several other things, are caused by mental health problems and the state needs to address that.

State Rep. Lauren McNally of Youngstown, the lone Democrat in the Valley’s legislative delegation, said DeWine articulated well challenges facing the state and she looks forward to examining the details in the coming months. But she also is skeptical of how DeWine wants to fund the policies.

Cutrona said DeWine “highlighted a couple of key points the Legislature wants to address. It’s important we take care of our vocational schools and mental health. I really enjoyed hearing his thoughts on business growth, and I join those sentiments.”

Cutrona said an over-reliance on American Rescue Plan funds for one-time allocations can be a concern because of the ability to continue paying for those programs after those federal dollars are gone.

One of DeWine’s big-ticket items proposed in the address is a one-time funding of $2.5 billion to “prepare the infrastructure of large economic development sites located in every single part of Ohio.”

As we have seen with numerous state funding programs over the years the largest amounts go to the most-populous areas.

DeWine said in the address: “If a manufacturer calls and says, ‘We need 400 acres with roads, water, gas and electricity,’ we need to have sites immediately available to show them now. We want all regions of the state to participate in Ohio’s economic revival and for all Ohioans to prosper from it. Every region of the state has good sites, however, many of them are not yet ready for development.”

During his speech, DeWine mentioned Intel’s major project about 40 miles from Columbus, and hearing from people outside the central part of the state asking: “What about us? One of the reasons Intel is locating in Licking County is because the site was one of the few in the state that could handle an economic development project of that magnitude.”

State Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Lenox, said DeWine “was a little defensive about Intel. But sites have to be ready for them to come. There was no other place in Ohio.”

O’Brien said she supports providing money to make other parts of the state ready for economic development projects.

“I talk to my peers and say, ‘How about my district?’ ” said O’Brien, who represents all of Trumbull and Ashtabula counties and a section of Geauga County. “I’m very encouraged that the governor wants to focus on economic development around the state.”



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