COLUMBUS — The Democrat who wants to be Ohio’s next governor called for a petition campaign on Thursday to undo provisions of the state’s just-passed budget that he characterized as “so egregious, so far outside the mainstream.”
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald drew comparisons to the Senate Bill 5 ballot battle of 2011 over union rights that sent Republican Gov. John Kasich’s poll numbers diving.
An initiated statute petition effort to put a proposed law undoing several restrictions on abortion rights could lead to a similar ballot fight in 2014 when the governor will be on the ballot.
“The governor literally went fishing yesterday,” Mr. FitzGerald said. “He would rather talk about other things.”
What Mr. Kasich wanted to talk about on Thursday was what he considers to be his greatest strength, the state’s financial situation. He held an event to mark the live electronic transfer of $995.9 million in budget surpluses into Ohio’s rainy day fund savings account.
“I don’t think the public really knows about this,” Mr. Kasich said. “I think it has been lost in, whatever, side issues. The public, if they can find out about this, will be thrilled.”
The transfer brings the state’s savings account to $1.48 billion, the maximum allowed under state law, after the balance had dropped to 89 cents during the depths of the recession under then Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
“It’s the Ohio comeback, and in many ways it’s an Ohio miracle to go from $8 billion (budget shortfall) to now this kind of a surplus,” Mr. Kasich said.
The governor refused to take reporters’ questions as his staff referred questions about Mr. FitzGerald’s proposal to the Ohio Republican Party.
“[Mr. FitzGerald] wants to talk about anything but jobs, economy, and the budget and to distract from Democrats’ terrible record on those issues,” party spokesman Chris Schrimpf said. “The last Democratic administration oversaw the loss of 400,000 jobs and a rainy day fund with 89 cents in it. Contrast that today, when Governor Kasich and Republican leadership have cut taxes $2.7 billion, created 170,000 private sector jobs, and fully restored the rainy day fund.”
The two sides are vying early to frame the debate of the 2014 election.
Mr. FitzGerald said he expects legal action challenging the constitutionality of some budget provisions, including those telling doctors who perform abortions what they must tell patients and preventing rape crisis counselors from presenting abortion as an option.
“I don’t know that it’s constitutional, quite frankly, to tell a rape crisis counselor that they cannot give a rape victim all the information that they’re entitled on what their options are,” he said. “I’m not sure if we can restrict someone’s freedom of speech in that way.”
A Quinnipiac Poll last month showed the momentum to be on Mr. Kasich’s side. Ohioans’ opinion of him has rebounded in the wake of the lows he experienced in 2011 as voters were rejecting Senate Bill 5 at the ballot. The latest poll gave him an early 47-33 edge in a matchup with Mr. FitzGerald but with plenty of undecided voters left to sway.
The initiated statute process is the same process used in recent years to enact the state’s ban on indoor public smoking and restrictions on activities in strip clubs.
A petition containing just under 116,000 valid signatures of registered voters, 3 percent of the total vote in the 2010 gubernatorial election, would put a proposed new law before lawmakers at the start of the year. Given that the makeup of the legislature at that point would be unchanged, Mr. FitzGerald said he doesn’t expect the outcome to be different.
Assuming lawmakers don’t act to the petitioners’ satisfaction within four months, the process could start all over again with another roughly 116,000 signatures to put the law directly to voters next November.
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