Paul E. Kostyu reports:
Gov. John Kasich used his State of the State speech Tuesday night to plead with members of the Legislature – including skeptical members of his own party – to expand Medicaid to provide health coverage to more poor Ohioans.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity to bring $13 billion back to Ohio to fix our problems,” Kasich said. “It makes sense to bring this money home. It’s health coverage for the poor, a great number of them the working poor. What are you going to do, leave them out on the street? Are you going to leave them under bridges?”
In this third State of the State speech, the governor took a more serious tone than usual. . Absent were the numerous ad-libs and shout-outs to people in the audience, though there were a few. Last year, for example, he mentioned Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee 13 times. This year Ohio State didn’t get a single mention.
Testing what is sure to be the outline of his campaign speech when he seeks re-election in 2014, Kasich hit general high points of the past two years in the 60-minute address at the Veterans Memorial Civic & Convention Center here. The evening speech marked the second time Kasich has taken it outside its traditional home at the Ohio statehouse in Columbus. Last year, Kasich gave the address in Steubenville.
He got a cool reception when he talked about Medicaid. And the 1,600 people who attended the governor’s annual State of the State address here were silent when the governor talked about raising taxes on companies that extract oil and natural gas from under Ohio.
At a press conference after the speech, Republican leaders refused to be pinned down about whether they would support the expansion of Medicaid or of the sales tax to previously untaxed services.
“We need some clarity,” said House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina.
For states that expand Medicaid programs, the federal government will cover the full cost for the first three years. Federal funds are set to scale back to cover 90 percent of the program’s costs by 2020.
Some tea party leaders and Republicans have criticized the expansion, which is a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul – what some GOP lawmakers have dubbed Obamacare. At least 11 states with GOP governors have said they will refuse the expansion.
That means Kasich will have to convert members of his own party if he wants to bring $14 billion in federal funds to the state and extend coverage to nearly 600,000 additional low-income Ohioans.
At their own press conference, Democrats criticized the governor’s speech saying promises of a greater tomorrow were empty because of his cuts to local governments and education in his budget two years ago.
Kasich: Keep ‘foot on the gas’
For the past couple weeks, Kasich has said he would not be offering any new policy proposals in the address. And he was right. What lies ahead this year already is known.
Kasich trotted out his school funding formula on Jan. 31 and a few days later released his two-year budget. In additional to promising to cut incomes taxes, he wants to cut the sales tax by half a percentage point.
The governor already announced how he plans to leverage the Ohio Turnpike for highway infrastructure projects. His private JobsOhio agency sold bonds to fund its efforts to attract companies. All this will occupy the Legislature for the next five months.
But his proposals have run into resistance from Democrats and members of Kasich’s own Republican Party.
Democrats oppose much of the budget, except the expansion of Medicaid coverage. Republicans oppose the Medicaid provision as well as expansion of services subject to the state sales tax. Officially, the state GOP has neither endorsed nor rejected Kasich’s proposals.
Kasich’s basic message was that life is good in Ohio and it will get better. He wants to keep the “foot on the gas” and encouraged the audience to “focus on the mountain top” without “resting on our gains.”
Kasich said that jobs are the state’s greatest moral purpose because they create stronger families and allow people to fulfill their hopes, their dreams and their purposes.
Kasich says has succeeded in his promise to put Ohio to work and reclaim the state’s title as one of the country’s great states.
Kasich says as he begins his annual State of the State speech that Ohio has added 120,400 jobs on his watch, is the number one job creator in the Midwest and number six in the country.
Kasich also is using his speech to remind people the state’s budget is balanced and the state has gone from having 89 cents in its rainy day fund to a $1.9 billion surplus
While the receptive crowd interrupted Kasich about a dozen or so time,s the only standing ovations came when he presented his now annual courage awards at the end of the speech.
Noticeably absent from his speech was any mention of expanding the sales tax to many previously untaxed services. He did mention his planned cut of income taxes for businesses and individual Ohioans.
State Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Bond Hill, said the expanded sales tax on services will hurt small businesses.
“It’s a new tax,” she told The Enquirer. “The governor’s not really talking to small businesses who are struggling. They feel like they are being left behind.”
Prior to Kasich’s speech, Democrats and their supporters protested outside the convention center.