COLUMBUS — Ohio's nonprofit job creation agency turned over information on its private finances today in response to an order by the state auditor, but it continued to insist the records are not public.
JobsOhio spokeswoman Laura Jones said the records were hand-delivered ahead of a noon deadline. The agency complied despite maintaining that Republican Auditor Dave Yost doesn't have legal authority to audit the private side of the fledgling agency's books.
“The Auditor's assertion that he can audit any private company, nonprofit, or charity that receives public funds will scare off new job creators and cripple economic development in our state,” President and Chief Investment Officer John Minor said in a statement.
Yost says Ohio law gives him the right to review private financial records with ties to public funds. He subpoenaed the documents last week after JobsOhio failed to produce the records on its own.
In his letter to Yost's office, Minor said the decision to turn over the records was “in the interest of further transparency, and is not a concession by JobsOhio that your subpoenas are within the lawful authority of your office.”
JobsOhio was created in 2011 by Gov. John Kasich to “move at the speed of business.” It received $1 million in taxpayer dollars as start-up money and has gone to market with a $1.5 billion bond sale backed by rights to Ohio's liquor business.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols blasted Yost for hobbling the pace of the office's work.
“The auditor's attempt to re-write the law to make JobsOhio a slow, bureaucratic public body again will kill JobsOhio and its job creation efforts,” he said in a statement. “And if companies that accept economic development incentives fear that government auditors will seize and disclose their confidential business records, then that will kill job growth in the state of Ohio.”
Yost's office had no immediate comment.
Minor announced today that JobsOhio would be refunding the $1 million in start-up funds it received now that it's gotten proceeds from the bond offering.
The executive director of a liberal policy group that's challenging the constitutionality of JobsOhio's funding structure in court alleged that the refund was intended as an end-run around public access to JobsOhio's records by making its books fully private.
“They're using proceeds of public money to pay back public money that the governor himself said should be audited and subject to audit,” ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg said. “This is a real-world example of why JobsOhio is unconstitutional because the mix of public and private money is way too cozy and reeks of partisanship.”
Nichols said the administration continues to support public review of JobsOhio's public funds and the release of an independent private-funds audit report conducted by KPMG, but it fears businesses being lured to Ohio could be deterred by broad public access to the books.
He said “the General Assembly must act quickly to prevent a chilling effect on job creation caused by a mistaken, overly-intrusive interpretation of the auditor's duties.”
Minor echoed that call: “The General Assembly recognized the need for a private-sector approach to economic development when it created JobsOhio, but if there's still any confusion then we believe it should be resolved immediately.”