COLUMBUS — The state’s new private economic development corporation came up empty today in its attempt to have the Ohio Supreme Court clear the fog around the constitutionality of the state’s plan to lease its lucrative wholesale liquor business to help the entity fund its efforts.
In a 4-2 decision, the Supreme Court today refused to get involved, telling JobsOhio that it cannot skip the lower courts and jump directly to the state’s highest court to settle the issue. Although he supports JobsOhio, Department of Commerce Director David Goodman has refused to sign off on the contract transferring the system because of outstanding litigation.
JobsOhio has generally agreed to enter into a 25-year lease of the system and to then contract with the Department of Commerce to continue running it. In exchange for getting the future profits from that system, JobsOhio has agreed to pay the state $1.4 billion in cash, $500 million of which would go into the state budget after economic development bonds and Clean Ohio brownfield projects backed by that money are paid off. JobsOhio also agreed to pay 75 percent of additional profits if liquor sales improve by more than 3 percent a year.
JobsOhio and Gov. John Kasich’s budget director, Tim Keen, signed the agreement on Aug. 7, but Mr. Goodman refused to execute it until the Supreme Court agrees that the laws creating the entity were constitutional. That prompted JobsOhio to directly turn to the high court.
“We will not decide constitutional claims raised by parties who seek an advisory declaratory judgment for which they have adequate remedies in the ordinary court of law,’’ the court’s majority ruled.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and judges Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Judith Lanzinger, and Yvette McGee Brown were united in pointing JobsOhio to the lower courts to litigate the dispute and allow the case to work its way back up to the high court through appeals.
Justices Paul Pfeifer and Robert Cupp dissented.
Justice Pfeifer said this case was “extraordinary’’ enough to warrant the high court taking it up directly. Justice Cupp, meanwhile, wanted to put off a decision on whether to dismiss the case until after the court heard from business groups like the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and Ohio Manufacturers Association supporting JobsOhio and from state Rep. Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky) and state Sen. Mike Skindell (D., Lakewood) who have challenged JobsOhio’s constitutionality.
Justice Terrence O'Donnell did not participate in the decision.