Officials talkstate issuesat AP forum

By Alexandra Newman and Patricia Ann Speelman - Sidney Daily News - and Andrew Welsh-Huggins, AP

COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Wednesday the state must change its rust belt image and embrace new technologies on all fronts.

While manufacturing will always be important in Ohio, the state must move away from the idea of building another factory that produces things people don’t need anymore, Kasich said at an annual forum sponsored by the Associated Press.

“We also want to change the image of Ohio from the rust belt to the knowledge belt,” Kasich said.

The Republican governor defended Ohio’s approach to the drug addiction epidemic that is killing thousands annually. He noted the numerous programs to fight drug abuse and said expanding Medicaid — the state and federal health care system for poor children and families — is important in battling this scourge.

But Kasich said the ultimate solution is not top-down.

“We’ve given them the tools; they need to use them,” he said, of addicts.

Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted, both Republicans expected to run for governor next year, said they believe the addictions epidemic is worsening.

“If we had eight people killed in a terrorist attack, we’d be up in arms. Then multiply that to day after day,” DeWine said. Eight people in Ohio die every day from drug overdoses, he said, adding that “if we didn’t have Narcan and naloxone, those numbers would be even higher.”

Kasich dismissed talk of being a lame duck, saying he’ll continue to work through the end of his term next year. He stressed that local communities must take responsibility for fixing their own problems.

“We need to be fixing things where we live. The ability to have a solid life comes from the bottom up. This is like my new religion — not top down, (but) bottom up,” he said.

The governor, who ran an unsuccessful bid last year for the GOP nomination for president that went to Donald Trump, said he wants to be known as “a uniter, not a divider.”

He noted that “protesting is part of the American tradition” but he worries that by taking strong sides without regard for opposing views can engender hate.

“We need to hear what other people hve to say, even if we don’t like it. Where do we think we’re going when we hate? This is not healthy for our society. Protest, yes; hate, no way,” said Kasich, who didn’t support Trump in his successful general election campaign.

In response to a question about his reaction to Trump’s recent immigration order, the governor said one of the most important things western society must do is integrate people.

“I think the president wasn’t well served by his staff,” the governor said.

During an earlier panel discussion, Ohio lawmakers from both parties signaled skepticism about some aspects of the tax policy in Kasich’s new spending plan, introduced Monday.

Kasich’s proposal to tax oil-and-gas drilling proceeds will likely be unpopular with many members of the GOP-controlled House, said Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Gallipolis, District 93, the House Finance Committee chairman.

Smith said the budget is much tighter this year and means the basics — education, roads and safety — must come first.

“It’s a tight budget, so we have to get creative,” Smith said.

Kasich’s budget includes a 17 percent income tax cut, a two-year college tuition freeze, and tax increases on alcohol and tobacco products.

The $66.9 billion proposal also would impose a half-percent increase in the state sales tax, from 5.75 percent to 6.25 percent, and extend it to additional services, including cable TV subscriptions, elective cosmetic surgery and lobbying.

The budget also calls for investment in transportation technologies, making college education affordable and strengthening Ohio’s job-friendly climate.

“You can’t give away the goodies and not pay for them,” Kasich said, concerning the balance he hopes to achieve between tax cuts and sales tax increases.

Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, District 33, the top Democrat in the Ohio Senate, criticized the governor’s proposal as “tax shifting” without making meaningful investments in top priorities.

“A tax policy like this nickels and dimes lower income people,” said Schiavoni.

House minority leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, District 39, also criticized the plan, saying Ohio faces “a death spiral” without proper investment, starting with schools. But, he noted, charter schools aren’t necessarily the answer.

“A failing charter school should not be a substitute for a bad traditional school,” he said.

For his part, Kasich said, “If the legislature wants to override me, that’s OK. My biggest worry is that I’m not hoisted on my own petard of righteousness.”

Senate Finance Chairman Scott Oelslager, R-N. Canton, District 29, said Senate Republicans are open to changes in tax policy. “Tax climate does make a difference in the state,” said Oelslager.

All four lawmakers agreed that the state’s number one priority should be fighting the drug addiction epidemic, which has led to thousands of overdose deaths a year, but they again differed on whether Kasich’s budget addresses the problem effectively.

“There is an effort, but it is woefully short,” Strahorn said.

Smith called it an “all-hands-on-deck” crisis. “We need to look at this comprehensively and really make a push. Everyone knows there’s no silver bullet,” he said.

Covering the two years beginning July 1, Kasich’s budget would spend $4.3 billion less in state general revenue than the previous budget. The final result would include GOP lawmakers’ own priorities.

The budget calls for modest additional spending for K-12 schools, higher education and prisons, while delivering flat funds or cuts to a number of other agencies.

Balancing the budget relies on $200 million from a new monthly premium that would be charged to Medicaid beneficiaries who are childless, not pregnant and have an income level above the poverty level.

Also at Wednesday’s forum:

• Kasich said he’ll be open with the Trump administration going forward: “If I disagree, I’m going to say something. If I agree I’ll let them know, too.”

• Newly elected Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken said her goal is to unify her party. “I’m not in the business of keeping score. If I’m going to be an effective chairman, I can’t do that,” she said. Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper said his party will run as change agents in 2018. “We have a unique opportunity in Ohio,” he said.

• DeWine, Husted and GOP Auditor David Yost said municipalities that identify themselves as sanctuary cities must follow federal law but have some discretion beyond that.

• Strahorn, Oelslager, and Schiavoni were asked about Right to Work legislation. It relates to a worker’s right not to be required to join a labor union and was voted down by Ohio citizens in 2011. Oelslager said he voted against it when it came before the Ohio House, but wouldn’t comment any further. “It’s an attack on workers rights at all levels,” Schiavoni said. Strahorn was also against it, saying, people don’t just understand it. “They hear jobs and think it’s great. It was truly a bit of marketing,” Strahorn said.

By Alexandra Newman and Patricia Ann Speelman

Sidney Daily News

and Andrew Welsh-Huggins, AP

Reach Patricia Ann Speelman at 937-538-4824.

Reach Patricia Ann Speelman at 937-538-4824.