COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich praised a western Ohio lawmaker last February who had a plan to repeal Ohio's income tax over 10 years.
But Kasich has been careful not to embrace the timeline laid out in the tax plan pushed by state Rep. John Adams since he announced his candidacy for governor in June. And now that the bill is under fire at the Statehouse, both men are taking pains to distance Kasich from it.
Kasich served in Congress for 18 years beginning in 1983, presiding over the House Budget Committee when it balanced the federal budget for the first time in decades. He later went to work as a managing director for Lehman Brothers in New York.
Repealing the income tax is still central to Kasich's platform in the race to unseat Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland this fall, but he says he doesn't know how long it will take.
Declining to commit to a particular timeline has relieved Kasich of having to answer tough questions about the income tax repeal. When nonpartisan legislative analysts attached a $12 billion price tag to Adams' proposal in January, for example, Kasich declined to speculate precisely how he would make up for such losses over the next decade if elected. He said the bill contained a timetable and his plan did not.
But the 10-year timetable had already been attached to Adams' plan for nearly a year when Kasich praised the lawmaker during a Lincoln Day dinner last winter. Kasich had appeared at a fundraiser for Adams, also a Republican, in October 2008, the lawmaker said, so he presumably knew the details of his proposal when he spoke.
"I believe Adams is right," he told Auglaize County Republicans while speaking in Adams' home district. "I don't think you can get rid of the income tax in a couple years, it's gonna take a long time."
He called Adams, a two-term legislator from Sidney, "a forward-thinking state representative who happens to share the view that I have that in order to improve Ohio's economic situation ... we have to figure out a way to get rid of the income tax ..."
Messages were left over two days seeking clarification from Kasich on those statements and how they relate to his current stance on Adams' bill.
This week, House Democrats intent on discrediting Kasich on the tax repeal issue continued hearings on Adams' bill that they hoped would highlight the devastating budget consequences of eliminating Ohio's income tax. It is the state's second largest source of revenue behind sales taxes.
Adams has emphasized during the hearings that it's his plan, not Kasich's. Kasich's campaign has distributed those comments to the press to drive home the point that headline-grabbing attacks on the bill can't fairly be attached to their candidate.
Auglaize County Republican Chairman Wayne York said he did not recall Kasich specifically addressing Adams' timeline one way or the other during the dinner last winter.
"John Kasich spent a lot of time talking abut his time in Washington," York said. "I remember the main thrust of it was his making good progress out there in bringing deficits down. He spent most of his time talking about how that was done and parallels to the governorship."
Adams said his bill was first introduced in April 2008. He said he picked the 10-year phase-in after consulting with conservative policy experts at the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
"We chose 10 years because we thought if we picked 15 years it might never happen and if it was five years it might be seen as too aggressive," Adams told The Associated Press.
Strickland campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said she would not be surprised if Kasich steps back from the issue.
"Now that people have focussed on his plan to repeal the income tax and how it would blow a massive hole in the state budget, he may try to distance himself," she said. "But the fact is he has consistently supported it from Day One of his campaign."