Welcome Kasichstan, where the Governor issues veiled veto threats if the legislature considers more funding for schools, seniors and local governments!

Here’s Governor Grumpy Pants in today’s Columbus Dispatch:

Gov. John Kasich said the Senate’s version of the two-year budget shares his overall vision, but he warned that he soon will grow cold to additional spending.

"We are watching spending very carefully," Kasich said. "We cannot put ourselves back in the hole by spending too much. There can be some give, but if there’s much more, we’re going to have a problem with it."

John Kasich is still seething over the ads that the nursing home lobby made that give him the ol’ “death panel” treatment.  And he knows (as anyone who’s paid attention to Speaker Batchelder’s comments lately already knows) that when the OBM releases the final projections of FY 11 showing roughly half a billion in surplus that can be applied towards this next budget, the nursing homes are going to get more money.  Kasich opposes this.  He wants to starve schools and local governments of money because he wants them to be economically forced into consolidation.  The more funding the General Assembly redirects to them, the less the economic pressure Kasich is applying on them to merge themselves out of existence becomes.

But what can Kasich really do? Politically virtually nothing.  Sure, Kasich could theoretically veto or line-item veto the budget in which he’s getting most of what he wanted.  Sure, Governor Ted Strickland issued some line-item vetoes in his first budget which, despite the fact that the GOP controlled both houses of the General Assembly at the time, initially passed both house unanimously, but those vetoes weren’t very controversial.   But Strickland also was polling with a 68% approval rating at the time (including a 64% approval rating among Republicans.)  Strickland was elected with an unquestionable mandate and had actually grown more political popular since his election.  In other words, the complete opposite of Kasich’s standing, who entered office with a bare plurality victory and has loss a massive amount of support since.  Strickland was so politically strong, I don’t think the Republican-controlled General Assembly even attempted to override Strickland’s line-item vetoes.

Regardless, if Kasich actually vetoed his first budget because it doesn’t cut money for seniors, schools, and cities enough, he’s given yet another instant gem for every attack ad against him in ‘14 (I don’t care what anyone says, this guy is going to try to run for re-election in three years and only a GOP primary will stop him.)  Between such a veto and SB 5, one wonders if the Democratic candidate will ever even need to get to what Kasich will have done beyond his first year to make the case against re-electing him.

So Kasich vetoes, but unlike in Strickland’s case, the General Assembly decides to hold a vote to overturn the veto.  Mind you, at the time these events would likely occur, the State is staring down a deadline of getting a budget in place by the end of the fiscal year which ends this month or else face a potential budget crisis.  The Democrats, who are likely to vote against even the slightly less harsh budget the Senate is proposing, will have to make an interesting choice.  They’ve already gone on record opposing the budget, but they know that a Kasich veto gives him leverage to extract even more cuts from schools, seniors, and local governments.  Therefore, depending what’s all included in the veto override vote, I’d expect the Democrats would vote to overturn the veto.  Therefore, so long as the Republicans mostly stay in line and support their own budget, Kasich’s veto could be overridden.

Kasich harms himself with a double whammy for taking the politically unpopular position over funding for schools, seniors, and local governments, and then again by looking political impotent and irrelevant by having the legislative enact a budget over his own veto… a legislation largely controlled by members of his own party.  And I believe that a large chunk of the Republicans would support such a veto override because they would like nothing better before the ‘12 elections than to express their political independence from Kasich who lately has been treating the legislature as nothing more than his personal errand boys.

Kasich could lose a veto fight over the budget just months before SB 5 heads to the voters.  Kasich cannot afford this scenario, and that’s why his veiled veto threat is a bluff.  He’s bluff when eeryone else at the table realizes he’s holding a junk hand.  In fact, the only threat Kasich can actually deliver on that could harm the GOP legislative caucus if consider providing more money is that he’ll campaign hard in their districts if they do so, but if they go along with him on the budget he’ll avoid their district next year.

That’s about the only thing Kasich has left to play.  Nursing homes and schools will wind up getting millions more than what Kasich proposed.  It’s hard to see what Kasich can really do to stop his own GOP-controlled legislature from doing so.  So Governor Grumpy Pants will whine and moan about how such moves prevents him from enacting more tax cuts or something, but in the end, he’ll sign the budget.  He can’t afford not to.

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