WILMINGTON, Ohio (AP) – Ohio needs to move beyond its Rust Belt roots, liberate its small businesses through tax cuts and energize the next generation of schoolchildren through educational innovation if it wants to continue to flourish, Gov. John Kasich said during Tuesday’s State of the State address.
The second-term Republican called upon state lawmakers gathered at the Roberts Centre in Wilmington, southwest of Columbus, to support his budget’s proposed tax cuts and education formula changes and to resist pressure from special interests.
“Do not miss the opportunity to create a new Ohio, an exciting new Ohio into this 21st century. People want it,” Kasich told the crowd of about 1,100 people in his fifth address as governor.
Kasich touched mostly on familiar themes and sought support for the proposals contained in the $72.3 billion, two-year operating budget he introduced earlier this month.
He declared the state’s condition strong while emphasizing that another set of tax cuts is needed to continue an economic momentum he said is helping people at all levels.
Among his proposals is a plan to let lower-income families keep child care subsidies as their income increases. He also wants to use $310 million in state and federal funds to better coordinate public assistance programs and job services at the county level.
“We’re on the move. We’re rising. We’re creating jobs. People are more hopeful,” Kasich said toward the end of the 75-minute talk. “And you know what’s really great? No one’s being left out. No one.”
Kasich said high taxes discourage risk-taking and the cuts are needed to encourage growth, particularly among small businesses, which he called the nimble “fighter jets” of Ohio’s economy. He proposes another $500 million in cuts and a 23 percent reduction in the state’s income tax as part of the budget proposal moving through the Republican-led Legislature.
Democratic leaders in the Legislature said they saw the governor’s view of the state of the state as “disconnected from reality,” and they criticized his plans for taxes and education funding.
“He’s got to be more honest with who’s getting the … real benefit of these tax cuts,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman. He and others in his party argue that Kasich’s tax package would shift the tax burden to middle- and lower-income residents.
Republican Senate President Keith Faber and GOP House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger said it was too early to make predictions about where their majority caucuses stood on Kasich’s proposed tax changes, though they seemed to agree that the budget would include an overall tax cut.
Kasich, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, made no direct reference to his future plans aside from pledging to be “here, working shoulder to shoulder,” with legislators to push through his reform proposals.
Some of Kasich’s strongest words were for oil and gas industry lobbyists who have said their industry will be devastated by his proposed tax increases on extraction. He said their pushback against the proposal is “a big fat joke.”
Kasich has sought unsuccessfully twice before to get the tax hike.
API Ohio Executive Director Chris Zeigler, representing the petroleum industry, said in a statement, “Policy decisions must take into consideration long-term and broad-based economic benefits and opportunities that advance both the state’s economy and growth of our industry.”
Notably, Kasich did not speak about other energy alternatives nor about environmental issues, such as toxic algae blooms contaminating Lake Erie that have garnered his administration’s attention.
Kasich drew applause several times when calling on Republicans and Democrats to work together. He noted some of his proposals have been criticized for being anti-Republican.
“People say, ‘Why are you doing that? That’s not Republican,'” he said. “Who cares? We’re not here to serve a party or an ideology. We’re here to solve problems.”
He recognized the state’s nurses, a college basketball player and a life-saving pair of residents with his annual Governor’s Courage Award, created in 2012 to recognize people whose selflessness and courage can inspire others.
The 2015 awards went to the nurses of Ohio, to basketball player Lauren Hill and to Shane and Brittney Robinson.
Hill got national attention when she played in a Division III basketball game with Mount St. Joseph on Nov. 2 despite suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. The freshman has since November helped raise more than $1.5 million for cancer research.
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