MEDINA - Ohio Gov. John Kasich used his annual State of the State speech Monday to pledge a new round of tax cuts, propose using casino money for a plan to boost ties between communities and schools and said state higher education funding will be tied to course completion and graduation.
Kasich also pushed the importance of vocational training as an alternative route for some students, proposed giving veterans free academic credits for training and experience they received in the military, and promised a new fight against smoking in the state.
In a dramatic moment, Kasich presented his annual courage awards to three women who survived a decade-long captivity in Cleveland after they were rescued in May when one of the women pushed her way through a door to freedom.
STATE OF OHIO — Ohio Gov. John Kasich delivers his State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center Monday in Medina. Kasich pledged a new round of tax cuts, proposed using casino money for a plan to boost ties between communities and schools and said state higher education funding will be tied to course completion and graduation. — Associated Press
The governor also used the 64-minute speech to indirectly ask Ohio voters to support him over likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald in November.
Citing a spiritual mission to "bring about a healing" before he dies, he said being governor to all Ohioans is his life and mission. He likened his first term to a hike up a mountain.
"After you've struggled through the early obstacles you get out on more solid ground, and when you get out on that more solid ground you get the first glimpse of your goal - the summit - and you come together and it lifts your spirits, and you get that extra boost to keep going," he said.
Kasich's tax plan would push Ohio's income-tax rate from 5.33 percent to below 5 percent for individuals and small businesses.
"When Ohioans have more money in their pockets, we're being true to the fundamental idea that made our nation great," he said to applause. "Government works for the people, not the other way around."
The governor's speech received a mixed review from state Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, this morning.
"Obviously, the courage award to the three Cleveland area young women who survived their captivity at the hands of Ariel Castro was a very touching moment Monday evening. I am glad the governor took that very appropriate action," remarked Gentile who attended the annual address.
"But at the same time I question his boasting about increasing the state's rainy day fund because that was done at the expense of local communities throughout Ohio. I have talked to the community leaders who have struggled to maintain services for their residents because the governor dramatically reduced their local government funds," said Gentile.
"I also question his commitment to lowering taxes in Ohio while at the same time penalizing middle class citizens with the state sales tax and denying senior citizens who are nearing the 65 age mark the opportunity to enjoy the property tax Homestead Exemption Act. The governor is more concerned about taking care of the wealthy Ohioans than the middle class and senior citizen Ohioans," declared Gentile.
Gentile also questioned why Kasich did not address the oil and gas severance tax debate.
"The governor missed the opportunity to take a leadership role on that issue by stating some of the oil and gas industry severance tax should be returned to the communities where the oil and gas industry is based. I expected him to take a leadership role on the issue while he was facing the General Assembly.
While he was encouraged by the governor's position on military veterans receiving academic credits, Gentile said he has a bi-partisan bill in the state senate offering the same plan.
"The governor lectured us at the end of his speech about not taking a partisan role in our work, but at the same time he failed to recognize a Democrat and a Republican have taken the lead on the legislation for our military veterans. Monday night would have been a good chance for the governor to speak in favor of our military service academic credit legislation," Gentile said.
State Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, characterized Kasich's address as "an election-year speech with promises for everyone."
"There was a lot of the same rhetoric, but the local governments and school districts are still suffering from the governor's budget cuts during the past four years. He talked about doing a lot of things as we go forward, but didn't provide any details on how he is going to fund these projects," Cera stated.
"I think we need to refocus on the local governments and the communities that are hurting because of the past cuts in funding," he added.
Education was a key theme of the address, which took place at the Performing Arts Center in Medina. This marks the third consecutive year Kasich has taken the speech outside the Statehouse in Columbus. Kasich took his speech on the road for the first time two years ago, when he delivered his address in the Steubenville High School auditorium.
Kasich proposed directing $10 million in casino revenue to get communities more involved with schools and parents more involved in their children's education, and said he wants to make it easier for returning veterans to get civilian jobs.
"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?" he said.
Kasich will introduce a midterm budget bill soon that could be the vehicle for the policy priorities of the fourth and final year of his term.
"Our great purpose will continue to be helping every Ohioan have a chance to find a job that lets them fulfill their purpose," he said.
House Education Chairman Gerald Stebelton said he liked the governor's education proposals but said they'll need careful review.
He said some proposals should be dealt with separately from a midterm budget bill. "If each idea has merit, it will stand on its own merit," he said.
Stebelton, a Lancaster Republican, said tying higher education funding to graduation rates also raises concerns.
"The devil is in the details because universities are not in total control of what happens to their students on the paths to graduation," he said.
He said family emergency, accidents and other events can take students out of the school cycle. "In concept, I like the idea," he said.
FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, questioned Kasich's budget priorities. He said Kasich was "counting on Ohioans to forget that he balanced those budgets by shifting the financial burden to the middle class and already-suffering communities."
Minority Democrats said the governor's actions do not match his words. They said while Kasich claimed to not raise taxes, many Ohioans are feeling the bump in the state sales tax and the removal of the homestead exemption and property tax rollbacks.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni said Kasich's plan to cut the income tax rate wouldn't pad the wallets of many in the middle class.
"It's not going to change the way that they act," said Schiavoni, a Boardman Democrat. "It's not going to change the way that they spend. It's not going to change anything about the way that they conduct their life."
Republican legislative leaders pledged to review details of Kasich's plans. They couldn't say whether session schedules would need to be extended or changed.
"If you know anything about John Kasich, you know one thing: He's not willing to sit back and rest," Senate President Keith Faber said. He said the governor had given them plenty to work on through this year.
Several dozen protesters gathered outside before the speech to protest Kasich policies.
"Everything that he has done so far has been against the working class people of this state," said Jamie Fant, of Dayton, a retired corrections officer.
(Staff writer Dave Gossett contributed to this report.)