Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been trotting to Republican states out west to push a federal balanced budget amendment he says the nation needs to keep spending in check. Yet on Monday, Gov. Kasich proposed the two biggest spending plans in state history.
Mr. Kasich is remembered for railing in 2010 that former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland was another “tax and spend” liberal.” But in light of the two super-sized spending packages he proposed today, Gov. Strickland is clearly the real fiscal conservative, since his second budget was smaller than his first, and $18 billion less that Gov. Kasich’s third one.
But it was Gov. Strickland who put Ohio back on a roaring road to recovery following the Great Recession of 2008 that devastated the state. And even after that economic damage was wrought, Gov. Strickland still managed to give a billion dollar surplus to his successor, Mr. Kasich, in 2011. Gov. Strickland’s second biennial budget, in 2009 was $50 billion, smaller than his first one at $52 billion two years earlier. The two budgets Gov. Kasich proposed today—$68.5 billion for FY 2016 and $70.2 billion for FY 2017—clearly dwarf those enacted by Gov. Strickland.
“Governor Kasich recommends GRF appropriations of $35.3 billion in FY 2016 (a 12.5% increase over estimated FY 2015 spending) and $37.0 billion in FY 2017 (a 4.8% increase over FY 2016),” according to Kasich Administration Executive Budget documents contained in the Blueprint For A New Ohio. “The Governor’s recommendations for all funds total $68.5 billion in FY 2016 (a 2.0% increase over estimated FY 2015 spending) and $70.2 billion in FY 2017 (a 2.5% increase over FY 2016).”
Kasich Invents 1-year Budgets
In his introductory letter to the budget plan, Gov. Kasich said, “We must also recognize the benefits gained from Ohio’s new emphasis on annual budget reviews, which for the first time in 2012 and again in 2014, provided a mid-biennium analysis of state agency spending, programs and policies.” An complete invention by the Kasich Administration, his annual budget reviews represent another opportunity to stuff into a budget document policies or programs that have not been vetted through regular order—introduced, debated in committee and voted on by both chambers—that subsequently remain outside court challenges. “The result has been a continuous, comprehensive and business-like process aimed at restraining the growth of state spending,” Gov. Kasich said.
Gov. Kasich, who turns 63-years old in May and whose name is mentioned along with many other Republicans as a possible presidential candidate in two years, has relied on a friendly GOP-run legislature to play ball with him as he reengineers the state spending plan each year to suit his political needs. Whether it was running for a final term or running for president a second time in two years, Gov. Kasich’s budgets always enshrine his political and religious beliefs, which are always braided together come budget time.
The governor’s last budget got whacked up pretty good from where it was when he offered it, and Republicans did the whacking, since they controlled the whack stick then as they do now. If Gov. Kasich can’t bring his own party in line in his own state, what are his chances of unite the country should he seek the Oval Office in 2016? Gov. Kasich showed Monday he’s thinking beyond Ohio’s borders. Sending signals, he said today that his proposed budget plan represents “a new day for Ohio, but potentially a new day for America.”
Ohio Democrats were ready to roast the governor and his budget. Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) and Senator Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, accused Gov. Kasich of both tax shifting and budget gimmicry. “The last thing Ohioans need is another increase in the state sales tax,” said Senator Schiavoni in prepared remarks. “Instead of raising taxes on everyone to benefit a few, the Governor should have proposed meaningful investments in education and local communities.”
“This budget represents another tax shift where middle and low income Ohioans will have to shoulder the burden,” said Senator Skindell. “In the coming months, Senate Democrats will be working to restore tax fairness to the budget and to ensure our schools and communities have the resources they need.” The state senators said eliminating income taxes on businesses earning less than $2 million per year creates a loophole that would enable some wage earners to avoid paying any income taxes. They cited the non-partisan Tax Foundation, which called the plan a “tax gimmick” and said the economic growth hopes to generate through it won’t happen.
Gov. Kasich proposed raising the state sales tax by 0.5 percent and broadening the tax to other services including cable television and parking. Over the course of the two-year budget plan, Ohio taxpayers would pay $2.48 billion more out of their pockets when they purchase goods and services. The budgets proposed today would also increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.00 a pack while imposing additional taxes on smokeless tobacco products. And his proposal to raise the Commercial Activities Tax on businesses and the severance tax on oil and gas drilling may not bring a smile to some Republican faces in the legislature that are far more Tea Party now, than Mr. Kasich was when he had the affection of Tea Party activists in 2010. Tea Party leaders turned against the governor, and even suggested to their ranks that they sit out last year’s election. Given the historic low turnout, many took their advice. Democrats were also miffed that Gov. Kasich’s plan for charter school reform “fails to provide adequate transparency and accountability for the management companies that operate the schools.”
In a cautious statement from House Finance Committee Chairman State Representative Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) following Gov. Kasich’s budget reveal, he said as little as he could without drifting negative. “I commend Governor Kasich and his team for the work they have already put into this budget proposal. I look forward to reviewing the measures outlined in the bill and working closely with my colleagues in the legislature to ultimately agree on a plan that is best for Ohio.”