During my testimony last week, I was asked if RobsOhio was constitutional. I said in my legal opinion the entity itself is probably constitutional, but Director Kvamme’s claim that it could become self-funding by acquiring an equitable interest in the companies it assisted would violate Art. VIII, Sec. 4 of the Ohio Constitution.
I probably should have revised my answer because I neglected that Director Kvamme’s testimony that the private companies who provide funding to assist JobsOhio would get equity in JobsOhio would probably then rendered it also unconstitutional under the same provision.
In today’s Columbus Dispatch:
After the House vote Tuesday, House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, told reporters that he expected more changes to the bill before it was finished. "I wouldn’t be comfortable if it stays the way it is now,” he said, according to Gongwer News Service.
The speaker did not elaborate on his issues, but said he generally shared some of the concerns that Democrats expressed, and he wondered if letting JobsOhio take equity in the companies he assists could the state constitution, Gongwer reported. "There’ll be a lot more work in the Senate and there’ll be more work back here," he said. "It has some elements in it that would cause some of us to question it."
Now since many of you may not know much about William Batchelder, I should point out that before he was Speaker he was an appellate court judge and is well-respected on both sides of the aisle as being an incredible smart and knowledgeable man on matters of constitutional law. In fact, before my testimony, one House Democrat on the committee actually cited a legal opinion written by Batchelder discussing the constitutional provision at issue.
Batchelder, apparently, has indicated that he, too, has concerns beyond the constitutionality issues surrounding equity, but the transparency and ethical safeguards as well.
And yet his caucus beat back every Democratic amendment offered in the committees and on the floor that addressed these concerns. That disconnect lead to the Cleveland Plain Dealer (“House GOP should have grabbed the chance for a stronger JobsOhio”) to today to blast the House Republicans for their self-defeating opposition to common sense amendments offered by the House Democrats.
However unintentionally, Ohio House Democrats, led by Beachwood’s Armond Budish, did Republicans a favor by proposing taxpayer safeguards for JobsOhio, Republican Gov. John Kasich’s quasi-privatization of the state Department of Development.
The safeguards are needed to keep this experiment in privatizing job creation fully accountable to the people who pay the bills. But House Republicans shot down all eight Democratic amendments, whose sponsors included Reps. Matt Lundy of Elyria and Kathleen Clyde of Kent. The Senate, also Republican-run, and a potential Senate-House conference, shouldn’t repeat the House’s mistake.
All Ohioans have an interest in JobsOhio’s success, because the status quo isn’t an option. And JobsOhio is a Kasich administration keystone. So its success would also be his.
First, I don’t think Budish and the House Democrats were “unintentionally” trying to pass taxypayer safeguards. None of these amendments were “poison pill” provisions you ordinarily see in partisan parliamentary maneuvering. They were, I believe, genuinely offered to make the bill more acceptable to everyone. And they were rejected by a party-line vote with now only the Ohio Senate to save us.
The editorial voices against JobsOhio’s lack of transparency and lack of likelihood in actually working is slowing starting to grow louder. Today, the Akron Beacon Journal cautioned the GOP to remember the lessons of Coingate and Tom Noe.
Speaker Bill Batchelder explained that House passage of legislation revamping the state Department of Development doesn’t mean that all of the work has been done. He expects the Senate to make improvements, and a conference committee to do the same. On Tuesday, he admitted he ”wouldn’t be comfortable if it stays the way it is now.” He cited a provision that may violate the state constitution.
Why, then, move so quickly to approve the legislation, one week after its unveiling?
The governor may find it over the top to question his sense of purpose and propriety. His fellow Republicans would do well to remind him about Tom Noe. Bad actors have a way of spoiling things if the oversight isn’t rigorous and consistent.
The Dayton Daily News editorial page was even more blunt:
The chances that a new kind of department of development will dramatically improve Ohio’s economy are slim to none.
Private — let’s be frank, secret — development organizations too often want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want the public’s money, without which they’d be financially impotent, but the directors also want to be exempt from the messiness of working in public.
The problem with secrecy, though, is that invariably somebody gets greedy, somebody cuts corners, somebody starts looking out for himself or his friends — and the public loses.
Gov. Kasich and the Republicans have the votes to defeat efforts to require real transparency. But for their own sakes — for their credibility and political security — they should want sunshine and openness.
[UPDATE:] Add the Youngstown Vindicator to the chorus of opinion nearly unanimously saying that the Ohio Senate must move more cautious, deliberatively, and with more consideration of the Democratic common sense amendments than the Ohio House did.
I’m willing to take Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus at his word that Senate will move more deliberatively and make substantive changes to the bill. I just wonder if the House will readily approve these tougher transparency and accountability standards, or will they throw them to the whims of a closed-door conference committee between the two legislative houses?