When John Kasich unveiled JobsOhio, he championed the benefits of bringing a private sector spirit to public efforts in economic development. A more nimble and flexible state would move at the speed of business. That was the idea. The reality has been frustrating for the governor, with JobsOhio at the center of a lengthy court battle, critics arguing the program violates the state constitution by routing public money into private enterprises.
The governor’s frustration spilled over last week as he answered questions from reporters. He labeled as “nihilists” and “obstructionists” those behind the lawsuit. He accused them of using “these tactics to try to destroy economic development so somehow they can get back into power and do more damage than they’ve already done.”
At one point, the governor added: “These are people who are going to have to answer to a much higher power than me about why they have appealed and appealed and appealed.”
Hell-raisers, in other words?
Clearly, the governor had in mind ProgressOhio, a liberal group, and two Democratic lawmakers involved in the lawsuit. Worth noting is that the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a conservative outfit, also has joined the cause.
Is there “no legitimacy to this,” as the governor asserted? The effort simply “designed to wreck the progress that we’re making in Ohio”?
Bill Batchelder, the House speaker and Republican in good standing, raised early concerns about the constitutionality of JobsOhio, sending the measure to the Senate with question marks. Provisions in the constitution reflect the experience of the 1800s, the state plowing public money into the development of a private transportation network. Abuses and corruption followed, leading to prohibitions on state funding of private endeavors.
In light of this history, it hardly surprises that a lawsuit surfaced challenging JobsOhio. The concern is legitimate. The question that has prolonged the case involves whether ProgressOhio and the others have standing to sue, the Kasich legal team fueling, in part, the extended argument by insisting at every turn that they do not.
The Ohio Supreme Court recently agreed to take up the standing issue. That didn’t stop the governor from pressing forward last week with a $1.5 billion bond sale to generate funds for JobsOhio to operate. The step provided the backdrop for another testy moment, the governor irritated at the suggestion that going ahead without court clearance would result in the state paying a higher interest rate on the deal.
No doubt the state will pay more, as the governor all but admitted when he lectured that “the market assesses risk.” And what if the court lets the case proceed and the JobsOhio funding mechanism, a complicated lease arrangement leveraging liquor profits, ultimately is deemed unconstitutional? The state will need to find an alternative revenue stream to meet its obligation.
No surprise the governor had one more bolt to heave. He threatened that he is “very close” to pursuing a loser-pays legal change as payback against those who dare question. At times, he does have an unflattering way of insisting he is right.