Ohio's John Kasich Pushes Tax Reform in State Address

by | February 25, 2015

By Jim Provance

Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday used a small southwest Ohio town to demonstrate that a resilient state is back on its feet even as he challenged lawmakers to have the courage to "follow the plan" to continue the progress.

MORE: Text, highlights and video of every governor's annual address.

"I believe the future of our state is at risk," he told those crowded into a convention center in Wilmington. "This isn't about John Kasich. ... The decisions we make now are the decisions that really affect us down the road."

Mr. Kasich's fifth State of the State address, his fourth on the road outside of Columbus, doubled as a commercial for his latest budget proposals. But he also held Ohio up as an example for an audience well beyond the state's borders, whether it's the federal government in Washington or would-be small business owners looking for a place to call home.

He tried to tell Ohio's story through the eyes of Wilmington. The city along I-71, about halfway between Columbus and Cincinnati, became the poster child for what the Republican said had gone wrong with Ohio's economy before he took office and what he claims has gone right since.

"I came here to Wilmington during my campaign in 2010, and I saw the devastation this town had suffered," he said. "It was written on the faces of the people in Wilmington, and these are people who played by the rules. They didn't do anything wrong. It reminds me of stories across the country ... Then one day the rug was pulled out from under them."

Wilmington went into an economic tailspin in 2009 when DHL Express moved its local air freight hub, putting about 8,000 people out of work. The city has not fully recovered from the wounds of the recession, but neither has Ohio.

"The state of the state is getting stronger, and we have regained our footing, but we must act decisively to seize the greater opportunities before all of us," Mr. Kasich said. "Wilmington is in many ways a reflection of Ohio."

Ohio cabinet members and legislative committees touted the city's resilience with its seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate now at 5.8 percent, down from a high above 19 percent five years ago.

The speech contained nothing the governor hasn't said before. He urged lawmakers to resist the calls of special interests who will fight his proposals, most notably his tax reform plan. Mr. Kasich promises a net cut of $523 million over two years by, in part, eliminating income tax on the first $2 million in small business earnings and a 23 percent income tax cut across all brackets for individuals.

To help offset the lost revenue, he has proposed raising sales taxes and taxes on tobacco, oil and gas drillers, and larger businesses.

"We're supposed to celebrate hard work," Mr. Kasich said. "We want more hard work. ... It can't happen without growing thriving businesses. They can't grow and can't thrive without new investment. This is really simple stuff ... New jobs need new businesses ...

"This isn't Republican," he said. "This isn't Democrat. It's a lot of what we've been trying to do over the last four years, and look at the results."

Rep. Tim Brown (R., Bowling Green) said the governor deserves credit.

"He's not a caretaker governor," he said. "He's a leader. He's going to throw ideas out there that we may not all agree with, but in principle, I think he's right. I want Ohio to be a place where people who come here to get an education stay, that the tax climate is such that they feel that they can open that business they've always dreamed of."

But while hitting on tax reform, welfare reform, charter school accountability, and funding for K-12 schools and colleges, Mr. Kasich never mentioned Lake Erie. His budget, however, does contain provisions designed to deal with toxic algae growth such as that which choked off Toledo's water supply last summer.

"I can't say I disagreed with anything he said, except maybe a couple of tiny things," said Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo). "[But] Lake Erie is so important, and I don't know why he didn't mention that."

Rep. Mike Sheehy (D., Oregon) also noticed.

"It's something he needed to say," he said. "But I'm shocked at some of the things he was courageous enough to talk about that the people in his own party did not clap for."

The National Wildlife Federation called it a "missed opportunity."

"Governor Kasich had the chance to share his vision to protect Lake Erie, our drinking water, our jobs, and Ohio's economy from harmful algal blooms, but he didn't," said Frank Szollosi, manager of the federation's regional outreach campaigns.

"The people of Ohio deserve to know what Governor Kasich is doing to prevent another crisis like the one in Toledo that left nearly a half-million people without safe drinking water."

(c)2015 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)