Sunday, May 27, 2018
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The governor gets specific

THE frequent knock on candidate Ted Strickland last fall was that he never expressed his vision for Ohio and never got down to specifics, preferring not to jeopardize his big lead in the polls against a Republican candidate and a Republican Party in deep trouble.

As governor, Mr. Strickland has no such luxury. Fortunately, his first State of the State address Wednesday in Columbus showed Ohioans that he's a man of substance, not just an elusive campaigner.

He charted an ambitious program of change that incorporates property tax relief for his oldest constituents, modest funding increases for higher education provided schools moderate their steady escalation of tuition, and health insurance coverage for every uninsured Ohio child.

Of course, whether Ohio's first Democratic governor in 16 years can get everything he wants is problematic. The General Assembly is still controlled by the GOP, and while much of what the governor had to say was politely received by the Republicans, his skepticism about charter schools and Ohio's voucher program was not.

The governor seeks to end one part of the state's two-year-old school voucher program - a separate program for Cleveland would continue - and wants a moratorium on any new charter schools.

Both notions represent a complete capitulation to the teachers' unions. Neither program has been given a fair trial as an alternative to public schools that often under-perform. The unions fought both.

Though we agree with the governor's intent to take management of existing charter schools out of the hands of for-profit organizations - they should be run by non-profits - it's troubling that two options intended to prod public schools to do better could be curtailed.

We also wish the governor had stressed prevention, not just coverage, in his health insurance proposal for children. Health-care costs will not come down until preventive care gets the emphasis it deserves.

But most of Governor Strickland's proposals deserve a serious look. For the first time in a long time, a governor of Ohio delivered a State of the State address that was all about people, not business interests.

His plan to exempt from property taxes the first $25,000 of valuation for senior citizens represents the first serious attempt to provide truly substantial tax relief for elderly Ohioans in 30 years.

Cutting taxes for one in four Ohio households delivers a big hit to state revenues, which must be made up somewhere.

The governor's solution is intriguing: sell off the state's future proceeds from the tobacco settlement to raise up to $5 billion, money that would help shift the burden of public education from local taxpayers to the state. Relinquishing the state's interest in future tobacco settlement money for a huge infusion of cash is an approach 15 other states have already adopted.

Frankly we give Republican legislative leaders credit for at least being receptive to Mr. Strickland's ideas. They recognize there's a new sheriff in town. House Speaker Jon Husted said some of his Republican colleagues would even prefer a bigger tax cut.

Contrast that with the predictable reaction of Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett, who called Mr. Strickland's proposals "the definition of a liberal agenda."

Clearly Mr. Bennett hasn't made the adjustment to the new political reality. Maybe he was simply caught off guard by a governor who showed Ohioans that they made the right choice back in November.

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