COLUMBUS — As Lima is crowned capital for a day, Gov. John Kasich has downplayed expectations going into his third State of the State address on Tuesday.
“I’ve warned everybody: Don’t expect anything new,” the Republican governor said. “There’s nothing new in there. We’re just going to talk about where we were, where we are, and hopefully where we’re going.”
Where he’s going on Tuesday — along with his cabinet, the Ohio House and Senate, some Supreme Court justices, staffers, Statehouse press, and lobbyists — is Allen County, about 75 miles south of Toledo.
Teachers, auto workers, and some unemployed Ohioans also plan to descend on Public Square in Lima to challenge Mr. Kasich’s agenda. The governor had to deal with hecklers who’ve managed to get into his first two State of the State speeches in Columbus and Steubenville.
State Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island), who doubles as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, sent out a fund-raising email urging supporters to turn out en masse.
“I want you there with me as hundreds of Ohioans stand up against this Governor and his policies that reward his friends with handouts while the rest of us foot the bill … ,” he wrote. “During his address, Kasich is all but certain to push for his tax plan that gives a $10,000 handout to those making more than $335,000 a year while middle and low-income Ohioans have to pay more.”
Mr. Kasich will speak before a joint session of the House and Senate and a ticket-only crowd at 6:30 p.m. at Crouse Performance Center inside Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center. Until last year, the speech had traditionally been delivered at midday at the Statehouse.
His administration chose Lima, in part, because its economic recovery and dropping unemployment rate will help to portray the Ohio turnaround story the governor likes to tell. Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate is 6.6 percent, more than a full point below the stubborn national average of 7.6 percent. Allen County’s is an even 7 percent.
“Our industry is doing very well,” said David Berger, Lima’s mayor since 1989. “Our industry held its own throughout the recession, and last year demonstrated some points of percolation, positive growth. All things point toward a strong but slow economic growth pattern.”
Mr. Berger is a Democrat, elected in a city where mayors run without partisan labels. Allen County and the surrounding region are definitely Republican territory.
“Probably very few folks who are coming have ever been here,” he said. “I’m told that there’s 130 or so from the legislature, the Supreme Court, 20-some cabinet members, support staff, lobbying firms, interest groups. We could have upwards of 1,300 people. For any community other than Columbus, that would be considered unique.
“Having those folks here gives us the opportunity to be gracious and hospitable and to tell Lima’s story.”
It’s a rare chance for a city that doesn’t get a lot of attention.
“The city of Lima seems to have, as they used to say about Chicago, a second-city mentality,” Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) said. “There’s no question that Ohio is dominated by Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. And then they talk about Toledo, Dayton, and Akron. That’s just the way it is.
“It’s not so much Lima but west-central Ohio.”
While the Lima speech is the heart of the activities, events will be spread across Celina, Mount Victory, Leipsic, and other communities.
Lawmakers plan to hold committee hearings while in town. The administration will talk tax reform with local officials and business leaders. There will be visits to the local Apollo Career Center, Rhodes State College, Ohio State University at Lima, and the Allen County Museum.
In between, there will be a breakfast, luncheon, various receptions, and undoubtedly a few stops at local landmark Kewpie Hamburgers.
Mr. Kasich’s speech is likely to be similar to those he has repeatedly given, highlighting what he believes to be his administration’s accomplishments during his first two years and specifically promoting his recent $63.3 billion, two-year budget proposal.
“It will be straightforward,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols. “We did the heavy policy rollouts a week ago, but he’s likely to remind folks where Ohio was. It will be a recognition that things have improved, but he will issue a challenge to everyone that we can’t take our foot off the gas. If Ohio is not moving forward, we’re moving backward.”
The tax reform plan proposes a tax overhaul that Mr. Kasich promises will yield a net income tax cut for Ohioans of $1.4 billion over three years.
The various moving parts of the plan include a broad expansion of the sales tax base, lowering the state sales tax rate half a penny to 5 cents on the dollar, and raising taxes on a burgeoning shale drilling industry largely in eastern Ohio.
It calls for a 20 percent across-the-board income tax cut for individuals and a 50 percent income tax cut on the first $750,000 in small business profits.
“You’ll also hear plenty of excuses from the governor on why he’s slashed school funding to the bone or decimated local fire and police funding by more than $600 million,” Mr. Redfern said. “Kasich’s cuts have forced local voters to fill the void, fueling more than $1.1 billion in tax ballot initiatives across the state."
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.