Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Audit JobsOhio

Efforts by the governor and lawmakers to block public review of a state development agency invite suspicion

The more Gov. John Kasich and Republican lawmakers do to thwart Republican State Auditor Dave Yost’s efforts to monitor JobsOhio, the more insistent the questions become about what the administration’s private economic-development corporation doesn’t want Ohio’s taxpayers to know about how it operates.

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Last year, Mr. Yost demanded financial records from JobsOhio that he said he needed to audit fully the nonprofit agency, which receives public funding. After negotiations with the Kasich administration failed, he issued a subpoena in March for those records, which the agency grudgingly provided.

Gaining access to such information would seem well within the scope of the auditor’s official duties. Yet the governor and legislative leaders, backed by business lobbies, have sought to limit Mr. Yost’s ability to audit JobsOhio. They say the audit he wants to perform would jeopardize the secrecy of proprietary data among businesses that work with the agency — a claim they have routinely asserted but not shown.

Last week, both houses of the Republican-run General Assembly abruptly rammed through legislation that defines as private money the $125-million-a-year profit stream from sales by state government’s liquor monopoly, which backs the bonds JobsOhio issues to do its work. That bizarre declaration removes much of the agency’s budget from Mr. Yost’s review, and from accountability to taxpayers.

The measure also mandates that a private accounting firm, not the auditor’s office, will perform financial audits of JobsOhio. Mr. Yost, who was effectively blindsided by the legislation, pleaded futilely with lawmakers to delay action for just a week so it could face a semblance of review and debate. Instead, the legislation went to Mr. Kasich, who signed it this week.

JobsOhio has essentially replaced the Ohio Department of Development as the state agency responsible for retaining and attracting business. Mr. Kasich says its private nature allows it to move more quickly and decisively.

Yet since its creation shortly after Mr. Kasich took office in 2011, JobsOhio has generated skepticism over the secrecy and lack of formal oversight with which it is allowed to operate. Its public funding attracts scant scrutiny from lawmakers; its private donors remain unidentified.

How many jobs the agency can validly take credit for attracting and keeping is open to debate. JobsOhio’s constitutionality remains the subject of a court case.

Such matters make it nearly impossible for taxpayers to assess how well JobsOhio is working. The lack of transparency the governor and legislature have bestowed on the agency does nothing to inspire public confidence in its use of public dollars to perform public functions.

Mr. Yost ruefully conceded this week that “I’ve unmade a lot of friends in the last couple of weeks.” That observation suggests that the state auditor is doing his job, or at least wants to.

When Mr. Kasich and the General Assembly block his view of JobsOhio, the inevitable suspicion — fair or not — is that the agency has something to hide. That isn’t the way to foster economic growth.

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