This is Part I of a three-part series.
Columbus -- It took Gov. John Kasich, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and the Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate close to an hour to describe their accomplishments over the past 12 months.
The lengthy list of legislation signed into law and policy changes implemented by the administration included a mid-biennium budget review, new regulations covering oil and gas production and horizontal hydraulic fracturing, a revamped bank tax, school reform and increased support for the disabled and needy Ohioans.
"In some ways, the whole process has been frustrating," Kasich said during a recent year-end review with reporters in his ceremonial offices at the Statehouse. "There's so many things moving, that at times for a reporter, it's been somewhat difficult to report, and I understand that. When you're in the middle of transformation, you cannot slow down. You get as much ground as you can, and frankly, we have a lot more transformation to do in this state."
Kasich & Co. are poised to continue that pace in 2013, with a new school funding plan, a proposal to leverage road and bridge funds using the Ohio Turnpike, a tax reform package that includes an increase on rates effecting oil and gas production and a new two-year budget that's sure to be filled with other policy and law changes.
"That's a lot, but we're going to keep going," Kasich said.
In recent weeks, Kasich outlined plans to leverage toll revenue from the Ohio Turnpike, with hopes of gaining upward of $3 billion for road and bridge repairs.
Many groups are backing the proposal, saying it is a better alternative than selling or leasing Ohio's only toll road to a private company.
During his year-end press conference, though, Kasich was asked whether the state should be borrowing more money.
"There is an appropriate amount of debt that can be added to an asset to unlock its value. That's something that people who don't know anything about economics, finance or jobs have a hard time understanding. Have them come see me. The fact of the matter is, we are going to have an ability to bring value and unleash value. If we weren't doing this, then these projects would occur in 20 or 25 years. But by bringing them forward, we're actually saving money because they cost less. It's no different than if I say to you, I'm going to give you $10. Would you like it today or would you like it in 10 years? The debt is easily retired through the revenue stream that's provided by the tolls on the turnpike …"
School Funding Reform
Lawmakers passed a number of Kasich's school reform issues during the session, including a third-grade reading guarantee and a new A-F grading scale designed to give parents a better idea of how districts are performing.
In the new year, the governor plans to unveil a new school funding plan, too.
"I want the child, no matter where they live, no matter what the wealth is in their district, to be able to compete effectively with a child in every other district," he said. "So if you're poor, you've got to have the right to be able to compete with the resources that are needed for a child that lives in a district that's wealthy. Everybody deserves a chance. There is change in this school funding … it's not done either, these printouts and all these other things. But it's more important than just the dollars. It's the direction we're going and the philosophy ... more dollars in the classroom, every child deserves the right to be able to be successful, to compete …We will have an education night where we will bring the people who are involved in this together. It's not going to be some one-off included in the budget. We'll have a whole evening of discussion … We don't look at this as some effort to try to address some court case, but rather this is a program to make sure that our children have the capability to succeed in whatever they want."
Kasich continues to tout JobsOhio, the new private nonprofit that develops incentive packages for companies considering expansion in the state.
But the governor said he isn't interested in companies looking to Ohio for an easy handout, via threats of moving elsewhere.
"If you want to leave Ohio and you say we're leaving if you don't give us help, that program's off the board," Kasich said. "It's not on our website. We might help somebody if they're leaving and it's a special case … Believe me, there are CEOs that call me. I say, look, if you want to leave, I hope you have a nice trip. You know what's funny? They don't leave. Then they want me to get in a bidding war with somebody in another state. We're going to be willing to be competitive, but you know what I tell them? We've got great higher education, we'll help train your workers by using tuition effectively, we have stable politics, we have a great location. We'll give you a little something on the top, but forget about this. We're not going into some bidding war with North Carolina or Texas. We're not going to do that. So far it's working, and we don't think we've really lost anybody."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.