MEDINA -- Gov. John Kasich vowed to further cut income tax rates, create job-training and career-development opportunities to youngsters at risk of dropping out of school and offer college credits for veterans for training they received during their service.
In his fourth State of the State address, before an audience of lawmakers and invited guests in Medina, the governor also offered a message of hope for better things to come.
"The clouds are beginning to move apart," Kasich said near the start of his hour-plus speech. "The sun is beginning to break through and to shine its bright light on that summit. ... We are not hopeless. We are not wandering. We have direction."
He added later, "I hope you'll stay with me on the path as we go higher. … The state of the state is stronger, more hopeful, more optimistic, more exciting and more confident here in the state of Ohio."
Monday's night's address marked the third time Kasich took his annual address to a joint session of the state legislature on the road.
He picked Medina this year, the hometown of Republican Speaker Bill Batchelder, who will cap more than four decades of service when his final term ends this year.
Among other accolades, Kasich called Batchelder "the most consistent and hardworking supporter" of the state highway patrol and announced the Medina post would be renamed in Batchelder's honor.
Kasich also presented "Courage Awards," to Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, three Cleveland women who were kidnapped and held captive for a decade before their rescue last year.
Kasich presented each with a medal and had a group hug with the trio.
State of the State
Kasich offered a familiar narrative of the state's progress under his administration -- going from an $8 billion hole in the budget, 350,000-some lost private sector jobs and 89 cents in the rainy day fund to $1.5 billion in the state's rainy day fund, 170,000-plus new private sector jobs, tax cuts and business-friendly policies.
The governor touted billions of dollars in funding for road, bridge and infrastructure projects, his expansion of Medicaid eligibility to provide health care to more needy residents and increased efforts to crack down on human trafficking.
Kasich also praised JobsOhio, the private nonprofit that is heading the state's economic development efforts and the focus of criticism for its behind-closed-doors workings.
"The nation's business leaders are realizing that our new approach to economic development is something that sets us apart," he said.
The governor offered a glimpse of his coming mid-biennium review, the large package of policy proposals that lawmakers are expected to tackle in coming weeks and months.
He voiced a continuing commitment to keep the state's "fiscal house in order," and to cut Ohio's tax rates to less than 5 percent, the latter accomplished through an increase in taxes on oil and gas produced via horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
Kasich said $12 billion in income has left the state in the past two decades, with residents heading to states with lower income tax rates.
"We've got to keep cutting taxes," he said.
The governor also said the state must increase its focus on decreasing the number of students who drop out of school by offering alternative paths to high school diplomas -- taking kids out of classrooms and into job training and helping them to apply textbook lessons to real-life situations.
Kasich also outlined an initiative to promote mentoring programs connecting schools and their communities, earmarking $10 million in casino fees for that purpose
And he announced the coming launch of "online career roadmaps" that will help students understand the education and related costs required to pursue different careers.
"Our kids need direction," Kasich said. "They need to understand where they are going."
Additionally, the governor urged lawmakers to sign off on a program that will provide free college credits for veterans to account for training they received during their years in the service.
"Whether it's engineering, heavy equipment, construction, auto and truck repair... advanced technology... the training has prepared veterans for many of Ohio's most in demand jobs," he said, adding, "If you can drive a truck from Kabul to Kandahar in Afghanistan, don't you think you should be able to drive a truck from Columbus to Cleveland?"
Lawmakers had mixed reactions to Gov. John Kasich's speech, with Republicans calling it "visionary" and at least two Democrats saying it was the worst State of the State they have heard during their years in the legislature.
The Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate were among the former,
"I have seen one heck of a lot of governor's efforts...," House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) told reporters afterward. "This was visionary. This was exciting for all of us who believe that Ohio has a great future ahead of it. I'm sorry I can't be back next session - it's sounding good already."
He added, "This was a challenging address. This was an address that gives the people of Ohio the understanding of what can be done in the future if we cooperate together."
Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Copley) said the speech was "classic John Kasich - it was ambitious and optimistic." And he said he heard a lot of ideas he can support, including innovative career education and college credits for military veterans.
Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), a frontrunner to become the next Speaker of the Ohio House, said he was impressed with Kasich's desire to help needy residents.
"There are more than 12 examples that he gave of approaches to helping lift the people of this state who are struggling, who are the walking wounded, if you will, up, help them be successful," he said. "Everything from the vocation area to the job creation area, the human trafficking area to the drug addiction, mental health, the list is very long."
But Democrats had the opposite reaction to Kasich's comments.
Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) called the governor's program proposals "Houdini politics - you can't continuously say you're cutting taxes and offering programs. It doesn't work."
Hagan said Monday night's State of the State among the worst speeches he's heard Kasich offer. Rep. Ronald Gerberry (D-Austintown) agreed.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "We have schools that are putting ballot issue after ballot issue after ballot issue [before voters]. We have counties that are saying, 'Help us.' We have townships going broke. And what are we doing? Are we addressing in any way ... local governments? No. Are we addressing school funding? No. We're going to now fund seventh-grade vocational education. We're not funding career education now."
Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) said the governor's "actions don't match the words that he spoke tonight."
Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) added in a released statement, "It's concerning that the governor boasted about Ohio's expanding economy during his speech, yet Ohio trailed the nation in job creation last year. This year the governor cut taxes for the rich and he's pushing for even more tax cuts that favor top income earners while many middle class Ohioans live paycheck-to-paycheck."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.
Initiatives announced by the governor during his State of the State Address:
Vocational education starting as early as seventh grade.
More job training opportunities for students, particularly those at risk of dropping out.
More efforts to cut income tax rates below 5 percent, "made possible" by an increase in tax rates on oil and gas produced via horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
State funding for colleges and universities to be based on graduation rates, not enrollment numbers.
Increased standards for early childhood education to help prepare younger children for future school classrooms.
Free college credits for veterans of the armed forces for training the received while in the service.
Increased funding for tobacco cessation programs.