David Yost wants to follow the public money, or perform the task Ohio voters elected him to do. The state auditor has been seeking the financial records of JobsOhio, the private entity engineered by Gov. John Kasich to advance job creation in the state. JobsOhio benefits from an infusion of public money. Those are the dollars Yost seeks to track, just as he examines others receiving public funds, from school districts to city halls.
Unfortunately, the auditor has encountered resistance in this instance. On Wednesday, the Columbus Dispatch reported that Yost issued a subpoena for the financial records, telling the newspaper: “They are not cooperating with our attempts to audit them.” He noted that the legal step followed several months of negotiations between his office and JobsOhio.
Adequate transparency and accountability long have been concerns about the economic development shop. The argument of the governor and others has been that successful deal-making between the state and private companies requires a sufficient degree of cover, too much public scrutiny too soon likely to spoil striking agreements.
Yet the state has learned from painful experience about the troubles such arrangements bring. The state constitution includes provisions that aim to prevent the state funding private enterprises, the sharpest lesson coming from the waste and corruption in the 1800s as private companies took advantage of state money pouring into the development of a transportation network.
Oh, that was a long time ago, the argument may go. Still, for all the complaints about government, private enterprises have reinforced lately that they hardly lack for mischief, abuse and worse.
The governor and his team have constructed a convoluted funding scheme for JobsOhio, state liquor profits routed to the entity, roughly $125 million a year. Yet, until recently, JobsOhio has relied on $1 million in startup money provided by state lawmakers. Or that was the impression.
On Tuesday, the Dispatch reported that the public money involved an additional $5.3 million to get started. Where did those funds originate? The state Development Services Agency, the public remnant of the Department of Development. Did lawmakers give their approval as the appropriating authority? The paper relayed that Republicans and Democrats were surprised by the larger sum.
Their reaction serves as more reason for the state auditor to follow the public money.
On Wednesday, the governor responded to the subpoena with assurances that he favors auditing public funds, adding the familiar caveat of “it’s complicated.” Not really. As David Yost explained to the Dispatch, state law gives him the authority to “audit the accounts of private institutions, associations, boards and corporations receiving public money for their use” — including JobsOhio.