Mike DeWine wants to invest in Ohio. That was the refreshing message of the governor’s first State of the State address, and the priorities went far beyond his proposed increase in the state gas tax. He knows he faces legislative chambers controlled by fellow Republicans who are reluctant to spend, let alone carry big ambitions for the state. So he invoked one of the state’s most successful Republicans, James A. Rhodes, reminding that when Rhodes delivered his State of the State speech in 1965 he urged lawmakers to “dedicate ourselves to a massive effort … to move our state forward.”
That was 1965, Ohio then the envy of many states, the median household income here exceeding the level for the nation. Today, the state lags behind, its median income ranking 35th among the states, at $54,021, or 10.5 percent below the national mark.
The state has experienced a steady decline. The past 10 years have been a decade of disinvestment, state spending on higher education, transportation, human services and local government all down by double-digits in inflation-adjusted dollars. The governor wants to change the trajectory, if not in a massive way, then on a scale that would begin to make up lost ground.
Watch lawmakers from both parties rise to applaud the governor as he described his initiatives, and the thought was: They are ready to follow. Yet Larry Householder, the House speaker, recognized the “inspiring message.” Larry Obhof, the Senate president, appreciated “his long-term view of the issues.” They and their colleagues await the governor’s budget plan next week.
In the meantime, the Republican majority in the House proposes paring back the governor’s fact-filled call for an increase of 18 cents in the state gas tax. House Republicans prefer 10.7 cents, no matter the clear need for more at the state and local levels.
Before the address, the governor advised there would be no “great surprises.” True enough, he held to the priorities he emphasized during the campaign. What was surprising was the quality of the forceful delivery, albeit still in a DeWine way.
The governor proposes to invest as part of fighting the opioid crisis, especially in expanded treatment for those suffering from addiction and mental illness. He plans to triple the families served by home visits, parents in poverty receiving guidance and support, a practice that has proved effective (though even such an increase would leave behind many of the eligible). He pledges to drive “significant state resources” to disadvantaged students facing the trauma of poverty, including “for mentoring, after-school programs, wraparound supports, health care, mental health care and much, much more.”
This is the kind of investment that pays dividends later in elevated lives and reduced social costs. So does plowing resources into children services, where the state now makes one of the country’s smallest commitments on behalf of neglected and abused children. The governor previewed something substantial coming to protect water quality, in particular, the algae-burdened Lake Erie, our neglected natural treasure.
These aren’t all the priorities highlighted by the governor, and far from the complete list facing the state. What he has defined is how to make the necessary start. In that way, it was helpful the governor returned the State of the State address to the House chamber after the John Kasich roadshow hiatus. The speech is about governing, the executive laying out an agenda for lawmakers, accenting their shared responsibility.
So now lawmakers wonder: Where will the governor get the money? Yet there is a question for them: When he does show his budget hand, will they be prepared to follow his lead and invest?