State of State doesn't solve Ohio budget mystery

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2011 4:09 AM
State of State doesn't solve Ohio budget mystery

Gov. John Kasich gave one of the longest State of the State addresses in recent memory, yet he provided few specifics as to how he's going to fill a historic $8 billion budget gap.

Kasich, a Republican who took office in January, said he will preserve an income tax cut that went into effect in January _ a decision that will require his budgeteers to find or cut another $850 million. And he will not be relying on federal stimulus dollars and other one-time money responsible for much of the hole in the two-year, $50.5 billion budget.

Kasich indicated Tuesday, as he had for weeks, that the program changes he's preparing to announce will be bold _ perhaps involving consolidation of agency functions, privatization of government services and cost savings through new ways of looking at problems.

He expressed support for policies that keep more seniors in their homes, give parents more education options, keep as many citizens as is practical out of prison and offer early government intervention in areas where it's cost effective.

Kasich said providing prenatal care for low-income pregnant mothers could save Ohio money in the long run. Care for a very low birth weight infant costs $70,000 on average, compared with $2,000 for a healthy baby, said Greg Moody, director of the Governor's Office of Health Transformation.

"If you've seen a lot of change in these first seven weeks, you ain't seen nothing yet," Kasich said, as the crowd erupted in a combination of cheers and boos demonstrative of the conflict his changes already are stirring.

An estimated 3,200 people showed up at the Statehouse on Tuesday, most of them to protest Senate Bill 5, which restricts collective bargaining for 350,000 police officers, firefighters, teachers and other public sector workers.

Hundreds of people streamed into the Statehouse and packed the Statehouse Rotunda during Kasich's speech, yelling chants of "Kill the bill" and "Shame on you" that echoed down the hallways and drowned out the broadcast of the governor's remarks.

But Kasich pointed to Ohio's loss of two congressional districts as a result of the last Census to defend a radical shift from the status quo.

"It's like taking a shotgun and blowing a piece of your body out," Kasich, a former U.S. representative, said of the congressional losses.

His speech was at times interrupted by throngs of chanting protesters outside the doors and a few hecklers inside the Ohio House chamber, which was packed with dignitaries.

The speech, in customary Kasich style, was delivered from notes and without a teleprompter. Supporters and detractors alike cited its lack of details, which Kasich said will be released next Tuesday when he unveils his proposed state spending blueprint for the next two years.

Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro said she heard Kasich deliver the same speech practically word for word at a recent Youngstown-Warren Chamber of Commerce event.

"All I heard today were platitudes. All I heard today were concepts. All I heard today were ideas," she said. "Talking about action, talking about change _ I didn't hear one concrete thing helping us go forward in Ohio."

House Democratic Leader Armond Budish, of Beachwood, was flanked by fellow Democratic lawmakers, teachers, nurses and firefighters as he delivered his reaction to Kasich's speech to a packed Statehouse Atrium. He said cutting the income tax would disproportionately benefit high-income residents.

"The wealthiest people in Ohio are not being asked to sacrifice; you are," he told a cheering crowd.

Kasich called for creativity and innovation to be employed throughout the state _ and by both major parties _ to restore its economy and well-being.

"I'm asking you all to keep an open mind about reform, because we can't keep doing the same thing in this state and avoiding the decisions that need to be made _ that have been put off for political reasons, frankly," he said.

Kasich's calls for common sense changes that emphasize a positive business climate won repeated standing ovations from fellow Republicans.

Democrats rose only rarely in support of Kasich's remarks _ once to salute the police officer son of a Republican lawmaker who had died in the line of duty. A gathering of uniformed police and firefighters sat in the gallery to watch the speech.

House Speaker Bill Batchelder, a Medina Republican, said he couldn't recall a time when there was shouting outside during a State of the State address.

"We have to look beyond the very short term," he said. "We have to accommodate the challenges that we face and respond to those challenges in a constructive way. And I think that the governor gave us a very clear view of that today."

Greg Waddell, a seventh-grade language arts teacher in Columbus, said he didn't hear anything in Kasich's address to ease his concerns about collective bargaining changes.

"Seems like everything was, `Where do we cut at?'" said Waddell, 36.

He said he hoped Kasich would offer concrete ideas about how he'd change Ohio but thought the governor fell short.

Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that mobilizes volunteer activists to fight for less government and lower taxes, said the speech made clear that Kasich understands he can't tax his way out of these problems.

"I think it's going to go down very well with the activists in the state," Brandon said.

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Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Ann Sanner and Kantele Franko contributed to this report.