In State Address, Kasich Offers Few New Ideas

Gov. John Kasich presented a case in support of his Ohio record--but played it safe by dodging presidential politics and not proposing major policy initiatives--as he delivered his sixth State of the State address Wednesday evening.
by | April 7, 2016 AT 12:30 PM

By Randy Ludlow & Jim Siegel

Gov. John Kasich presented a case in support of his Ohio record--but played it safe by dodging presidential politics and not proposing major policy initiatives--as he delivered his sixth State of the State address Wednesday evening.

Speaking before a joint session of the General Assembly and a crowd of more than 900, the second-term Republican spoke for nearly an hour, recounting the state's recovery on his watch from the national recession and offering now-familiar hugs to his Courage Award winners.

He spoke of hope, community spirit and God-given missions, staples as he campaigns for president, proclaiming that on his watch as state CEO since 2011, Ohio has come storming back economically--but with much work still to do.

"After some tough times and a world that seemed to be moving on without us, Ohio wasn't always able to hold itself up as America's model," Kasich said to the crowd in the newly renovated Peoples Bank Theatre in downtown Marietta as he again took his speech on the road.

"Together, we lifted Ohio out of the ditch," Kasich said in remarks recalling the loss of 350,000 jobs and a structural $8 billion budget shortfall that was countered by the creation of 417,000 private-sector jobs and a $2 billion state savings account.

"The formula is working--fiscal responsibility, common-sense regulations and tax cuts," the governor said. Creating a climate that produces jobs is "our number one moral obligation," he said in a speech interrupted more than two dozen times by applause. He called Ohio a model for other states to emulate.

"The state of our state is getting stronger every day and the outlook is bright and hopeful," he said.

Kasich said he wants to put more money more quickly in Ohioans' pockets, although it wouldn't translate into a net tax cut.

The governor will ask lawmakers to lower the income tax withholding tables, which were not reduced to match last year's 6 percent tax cut. Less money would be withheld from paychecks now, instead of having workers wait until filing tax returns in April. The shift would cost the state $140 million this year, but save money next year because refunds would be lower.

Republican legislative leaders did not sound enamored with the idea. "We're going to have to have a debate about whether that's the best utilization of that one-time money," said Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina.

Kasich called for Democrats to join him in supporting the tax move, but leaders aren't interested in supporting a proposal that appears to "double down" on an income tax cut policy that they say benefits the wealthy and leaves less to invest in schools and local communities.

"Demand drives an economy, not tax breaks for the rich," said House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton.

Kasich promised a comprehensive tax-reform package will be submitted to the General Assembly next year, presumably as part of the next two-year state budget--and presuming he's not president.

The governor also devoted a good chunk of his speech to calling for a battle against the scourge of drug addiction, which has fueled a large rise in deaths related to heroin and prescription-drug abuse.

He proposed the state license pharmacy technicians to ensure they receive training to help detect abuse of pain killers, limit prescriptions to 90-day supplies and invalidating prescriptions not filled within 30 days. Kasich also wants increased scrutiny of drug-treatment clinics to ensure they are "not perpetuating" addictions.

Kasich also appeared to poke a bit of fun at himself over spending about half of the past year on the road campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination. "As you know, I've done a bit of traveling in recent months ...," he said. The line drew no laughs.

The closest the governor appeared to come to touching on his campaign against billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz arose as he deviated from his prepared remarks, talking of the need for people to lead lives bigger than themselves and to "lift the world."

"We're here at a unique moment in time," he said. "We find satisfaction in life when we ignore some of the silliness, the fighting, the divisions, the egos, the turf protection."

Kasich repeated his call for state lawmakers, who have redesigned how legislative districts are drafted to make the process fairer, to extend the reforms to the drawing of congressional districts.

"Ideas and merit should be what wins elections, not gerrymandering. When pure politics is what drives these kinds of decisions, the result is polarization and division. I think we've had enough of that," he said.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican supporter of a revamp, praised Kasich for keeping the issue in front of lawmakers.

"You've got to essentially cajole, even embarrass people into taking up the issue," Husted said. "You're not going to fix what's wrong in Washington until you fix what's wrong with redistricting."

But congressional redistricting reform continued to get a lukewarm response from Republican legislative leaders. Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, called it a "complex puzzle" that needs more discussion with the governor. Faber said the system could use improvement, but he doesn't want to take the drawing process away from the legislature.

"We've got a lot of other things that, to me, take priority," Faber said.

While on the stump, Kasich said he has encountered Americans, who like many Ohioans, are continuing to struggle. He listed state efforts to improve education, contain college costs and availability, promote adult job training and expand Medicaid to provide insurance for 662,000 more residents.

"We've got more work to do, but I am confident that together we can keep moving forward. Why am I confident? Because as I travel across this country I am reminded of one thing again and again: There's no place like Ohio!"

Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, said he was most concerned that Kasich talked about improvements in areas such as education, including more emphasis on the arts.

"A lot of schools are cutting art because they don't have the funds," he said. "If we don't invest ... then you don't have a successful education in our state."

Kasich presented three of his Courage Awards, including one to Wallace Peck of Columbus, who overcame developmental disabilities and homelessness to become "one of Ohio's most-honored self-taught artists."

(c)2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)