COLUMBUS DISPATCH Enlarge
COLUMBUS -- Gov. John Kasich on Friday dismissed the suggestion that the $55.8 billion, two-year budget he signed into law this week is "an assault on anybody."
Seeking to put a period at the end of what was at times a contentious budget season, Mr. Kasich suggested that Democrats and local governments facing budget cuts were afraid to break out of the pack to support his policies.
"A lot of these Democrats were hiding in the shadows, afraid they were going to get a primary [opponent]," a sometimes angry Mr. Kasich said during a news conference with Republican legislative leaders that essentially served as a budget victory lap.
"It was very disappointing, but I'm not giving up on 'em," he said. "I was fuming mad about this vote on drilling on public lands. It was almost a total partisan vote. You know the damage that these folks can do to job creation in eastern Ohio?
"This partisanship has gotta come to an end," he said. "There's just some people who haven't gotten the message yet that there's a new way and a new day. … We're not going to let them disrupt the agenda of letting Ohio recover."
But then, with a smile, he added, "I'm not giving up on 'em. I'll charm 'em."
On Thursday night, he signed a 3,262-page, policy-heavy budget that cuts taxes while reducing aid to schools, local governments, libraries, nursing homes, and many social-service programs. It seeks to privatize prisons, the state's wholesale liquor business, and the Ohio Turnpike.
Despite the cuts, the budget has won praise from some social-service groups for not slashing basic Medicaid programs serving the poor and for refocusing long-term care aid to in-home support rather than nursing homes.
The plan passed solely with Republican votes, with Democrats arguing that it sets up cities, counties, and schools to take the fall to raise taxes at the local level.
"They ought to embrace Senate Bill 5 and stop running away from it," the governor said, referring to his law restricting the collective bargaining power of government workers. Signatures were filed this week to put the law before voters on Nov. 8.
"They just have to embrace change, and they're kind of reluctant to do it,'' Mr. Kasich said. He added that competition for business that now occurs between states will heat up as well at the local level.
"Some communities will [embrace change],'' he said. "They're going to get the jobs. The ones that don't do a good job will lose the jobs. They'll hurt their tax base, their schools, their hospitals, their charities -- everything.''
In the past, Mr. Kasich has pointed to Toledo as a city that would benefit from such a law. Mayor Mike Bell appeared in a YouTube video produced for the governor's office in which he talked about the need for change in Ohio's collective bargaining law.
"As far as Senate Bill 5, the mayor has not given blanket endorsement," said Jen Sorgenfrei, Mr. Bell's spokesman. "[Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat] did go down and testified about our experience. We do need changes in collective bargaining law to recognize the municipality's ability to pay."
"It stemmed from our position of being in a $48 million deficit and really having to wrestle concessions from some of our bargaining units," she said.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern challenged Mr. Kasich's contention that getting a budget that was proposed by a Republican governor through two legislative chambers controlled by Republicans was "historic.''
"This governor doesn't understand the citizens of Ohio,'' he said. "Six thousand people who march in the middle of the day to file 1.3 million signatures [to overturn Senate Bill 5] is hardly in the shadows. He's surrounded himself with only those who will agree with him. … It's akin to getting a hole-in-one when you are keeping your own scorecard and don't have any witnesses.''
The budget includes language to establish a performance-pay system for teachers that is reminiscent of Senate Bill 5, would eliminate the estate tax beginning in 2013, and assumes savings from sentencing reforms designed to redirect nonviolent state prisoners to alternative community-control and treatment programs.
Mr. Kasich defended privatization plans in the budget, saying that when the private sector can do a better job it should have the opportunity. He pointed in particular at his proposal to enter into a potential 75-year lease with a private firm to operate the 241-mile toll road across northern Ohio in exchange for an estimated up-front lump sum of about $3 billion.
"There's a lot of emotion around the turnpike," he said, adding that he resisted advice to use his line-item veto power to strike language that lawmakers added to the budget requiring him to come back to them with proposed terms of a deal before going out for bids.
"The turnpike is an underutilized asset," Mr. Kasich said. "We can take that, and we can privatize it, and we can get a big chunk of money that can be used to improve our infrastructure in the state. Indiana did it. Indiana made a lot of progress. [Ohio transportation director] Jerry Wray desperately needs resources in light of the infrastructure needs.
"This has nothing to do with unions or pensions," he said. "It has to do with getting the best of what you have."
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.