SILVER LAKE: Gov. John Kasich told area business leaders that Ohio went from being “a total mess” when he took office 14 months ago to being the top job creator in the Midwest.
Now, he said, he’s on a mission to educate Ohioans about new efforts on his agenda, including raising taxes on oil and gas companies to pay for an income tax cut, a study to determine whether the state would benefit from selling operating rights to the Ohio Turnpike, and a slate of reforms ranging from education to health care.
At a luncheon Tuesday of the Stow-Munroe Falls Chamber of Commerce, Kasich touted recent successes, saying he has balanced the state budget without raising taxes because a tax increase was not an option.
“If you’re not competitive, you’re not going to win,” he said. “No client calls and says, ‘Can you raise my cost?’ ”
Kasich said the state’s rainy day fund has gone from 89 cents to $240 million since he took office, and that while the rest of the world is being downgraded by credit industries, the credit agency Moody’s took Ohio off “negative watch.”
Meanwhile, a bill just introduced offers 3,500 pages of ideas for combining functions and improving efficiency to the tune of $90 million in savings a year, he said.
The governor noted his administration ended the Ohio estate tax, and is encouraging older people to stay in their homes longer by offering more Medicaid home-care help while cutting reimbursements to nursing homes.
He also said that an executive order signed Monday benefits the state’s “most vulnerable” because it requires case managers to seek employment for the disabled in mainstream businesses rather than “sheltered” workshops.
Kasich spoke at length about education, a topic that has been a priority for politicians for 50 years, he said.
While a poll of Ohioans found 67 percent thought their schools were performing well, Kasich said, the country’s K-12 system is falling behind the rest of the world.
Repealing rules that drive up costs at local school districts is a good idea, he added, but schools would have to participate by cutting their own costs as well.
At the college level, Kasich said few students are graduating in four years because they are dispirited at having to take remedial classes.
He drew a direct correlation between the fact that 41 percent of college students take a remedial course and the fact that only 14 percent of college students complete a degree in four years.
He did not comment about the cost of a college education — more than $40,000 for a four-year degree at a typical state school — but was asked later whether he thought that might be a bigger indication of why so few students can finish their degrees in a timely manner.
Kasich said costs might play a role, but “it’s more a matter of ‘Why am I here?’ ” and motivating young people to identify their talents and pursue them, perhaps at community colleges that cost less.
The governor also promoted his efforts to raise taxes on oil and gas companies as a way to fund an income tax cut for residents.
He held up two dimes, saying that’s how much tax is paid to Ohio on a $107 barrel of oil.
“It’s no longer acceptable,” he said, defending his proposal to increase the tax to 4 percent.
Noting recent economic development announcements, including a $900 million investment to be made on a natural gas and liquid gas service complex in Columbiana County, Kasich said he didn’t want to “overhype” Ohio’s potential as a gas supplier, because few wells have been drilled.
But, he added, clearly those investments would not be made if the industry didn’t see great potential in Ohio’s Utica shale formation deep underground.
In another area he sees ripe for reform, Kasich said the state needs to think about changing the way it pays physicians through Medicaid. He supports working with private industry to create an outcome-based system of reimbursement that considers: “If I go to a doctor, do I get better? If I go to a hospital, do I get treated right?”
He also talked about a study under way on whether the state should sell operating rights to the Ohio Turnpike.
Kasich said Ohio could get “a couple of billion dollars” from turning operations over to a private interest, but the jury is still out on whether that’s a good idea.
“If we don’t get the best deal for Ohio, we’re not gonna do it,” he said.