COLUMBUS — Even as they debated whether their decision blocks future challenges to Gov. John Kasich‘s JobsOhio, the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that at least those standing before it can’t sue again.
The court voted 5-2 that former state Rep. Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky), state Sen. Michael Skindell (D., Lakewood), the liberal ProgressOhio, and the conservative 1851 Center for Constitutional Law did not have a direct stake in the case.
“When an injured party seeks to challenge JobsOhio, we may entertain such a case,” wrote Justice Judith French, a Kasich appointee. “But those parties are not before us today. Appellants lack standing to bring this suit, and they may pursue it no further.”
The plaintiffs had challenged the use of state dollars to finance the job-creation efforts of the private nonprofit corporation.
“They do not show that they have any rights at stake or that speedy resolution will bring them any concrete relief,” Justice French wrote. “They simply argue that they have an idealistic opposition to the governor’s ‘use of public fund(s) to prop up purely private corporations.’ This is insufficient. ...”
Justice French was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Justices Judith Lanzinger and Sharon Kennedy, and 9th District Court of Appeals Judge Beth Whitmore, sitting in for Justice Terrence O’Donnell. Justice O’Donnell had recused himself because Mr. Skindell was his opponent in his last election.
Justices Paul Pfeifer and William O'Neill dissented.
“Today, this court ends all doubt about when it will determine the constitutionality of the JobsOhio legislation, essentially responding, ‘Not ever. Not here. Not now. Not ever,’ ” Justice Pfeifer wrote. “An Ohio citizen who possesses no personal stake in the outcome of a case other than ensuring that his or her government live up to the Ohio Constitution has a means to vindicate that case.”
JobsOhio assumed many of the responsibilities of the Department of Development, but was shielded from some public record, state audit, and other laws that applied to its predecessor.
The state’s decision to sell profits from its liquor enterprise to help finance its operations raised questions about using taxpayer dollars to finance a private corporation.
“Let’s be clear,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said. “These groups sought to preserve the failed government-centric status quo approach to economic development that contributed to the loss of 400,000 Ohio jobs over a four-year period. Ohioans deserve better. JobsOhio is working. The state is getting back on track, and we’re happy that the Supreme Court is allowing our job creation efforts to continue.”
Mr. Murray, an attorney, said the state is forgetting lessons learned in its early history when the state ran up debt to help finance private canals, a move that led to a constitutional backlash.
“The same principle back then was a cleaner separation of government from private industry,” Mr. Murray said. “We’re looking at a real co-mingling of government and private interests in a way that obfuscates them from public scrutiny. This rises to the same thing.”
The law creating JobsOhio provided just 90 days for someone to challenge it, a period that has long since expired. But Justice French wrote that someone injured by JobsOhio could challenge the constitutionality of that time limit.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.