COLUMBUS: Gov.-elect John Kasich said Wednesday no government program will be safe under his administration as he seeks ways to address a looming budget gap that could approach $8 billion.
Kasich, a 58-year-old former Republican congressman elected Tuesday to replace Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, said ''nothing will be left off the table'' as he crafts the two-year state budget due out early next year.
He stopped short of threatening job cuts to unionized public employees before getting even a first glimpse at the latest budget figures.
''I'm not going to get into trying to pick on anybody right now,'' Kasich said, noting he wants a smooth transition into office and productive budget negotiations.
''I'm very confident that we'll have a very good reform-oriented budget that will restore the tax cut,'' he told reporters invited in after a meeting with his key advisers.
In order to balance the most recent state budget, Strickland delayed for two years a planned 4.3-percent cut to Ohioans' personal income taxes.
Supporters of such liberal social causes as gay and abortion rights said Wednesday they fear their issues will take a blow in Ohio given the Republicans' sweeping Election Day takeover of the state legislature and statewide offices.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio's Kellie Copeland said she expects a threat to abortion rights because of previous GOP attempts to ban abortions in the state. She says private insurance benefits covering abortion also could be at risk.
The board chairman of Equality Ohio says the gay rights group is anxious about what Tuesday's outcome means for a bill that guaranteed job and housing protections regardless of sexual orientation.
A Republican spokeswoman in the Ohio House declined to speculate on actions that could be taken on social issues once the party takes control.
Advocates of programs Strickland supported school funding reforms, high-speed rail and the government-run economic development department
also expressed concern about their future under the Kasich administration.
Three newly named Kasich aides and one of his long-time policy advisers have scheduled a meeting for today with the Strickland administration for their first budget briefing, Kasich said.
He has named campaign manager Beth Hansen as his chief of staff. He called her methodical, calm and focused.
The new position of state policy director was given to Wayne Struble, who will coordinate key policy initiatives in all the cabinet agencies.
Struble served as policy director when Kasich chaired the U.S. House Budget Committee in the 1990s. Kasich said in that position Struble effectively directed the nation's budget policy and helped balance the federal budget for the first time in nearly three decades.
Struble is a soft-spoken, cerebral longtime Capitol Hill staff aide who will provide a contrast to Kasich's more excitable style. After Kasich left Congress, Struble served as a top aide to former Ohio GOP Rep. David Hobson, and more recently as an adviser to freshman Ohio GOP Rep. Steve Austria.
Kasich also selected Tim Keen as the state's next budget director.
Keen served as deputy budget director and briefly as budget director under the state's last Republican administration, that of Bob Taft. He most recently was serving in the office of Auditor Mary Taylor, the lieutenant governor-elect.
Hansen, Struble, Keen and longtime Kasich aide Ben Kanzeg are scheduled to meet with Strickland chief of staff John Haseley and state budget director Pari Sabety today.
Strickland spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said the governor is committed to assuring a smooth transition.