Questions have been raised all along about JobsOhio, the private agency created last year to take over from the state Department of Development. Yet John Kasich has persisted, the governor pushing his idea that a private operation making substantial loans will move faster to create jobs and prove more responsive to business.
Lawsuits concerning the constitutionality of the new entity have hampered its ability to get going, blocking its revenue source — profits from state liquor operations — to tap the bond market. Those lawsuits have come from left and right, one filed by Democratic lawmakers and ProgressOhio, a liberal group, and another by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a conservative organization.
So far, no court has taken up the underlying issue of whether JobsOhio runs afoul of constitutional language intended to prevent public money from flowing without conditions into corporations and to prevent the use of the state’s credit (in this case, liquor profits) to back private bonds. Instead, lower courts have ruled that the challengers lack the standing to proceed, which ProgressOhio has appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Last week, things got more tangled. The Kasich team landed in the unusual position of challenging itself in court. David Goodman, the state commerce director, refused to sign an agreement that would transfer liquor profits to JobsOhio. He points to the constitutional questions. JobsOhio officials responded by asking the Ohio Supreme Court to settle the matter.
JobsOhio would tap a revenue stream of more than $150 million a year for 25 years, a substantial investment in job creation. The governor rightly argues that he won a mandate to proceed along this track. Yet the constitutional questions must be resolved, the provisions of the state constitution about public investment in the private sector crafted after the bitter experience of canal and railroad investment debacles in the 1840s.
That experience underscored the sound concept that with public money must come accountability and disclosure to protect the public interest. With the lawsuits against JobsOhio stuck, and the governor without a reasonable path for just proceeding, the Goodman objection presents an opening for the high court, finally, to get the matter settled.