Washington Post: Gov. Kasich and His Bold Plans to Fix Ohio

KASICH FAMILY PHOTOGovernor John Kasich recently spoke with Jennifer Rubin from the Washington Post about Ohio’s Jobs Budget and his efforts to restore jobs and prosperity back to our great state. You can read more here and share your thoughts below:

It’s been more than 10 years since Republican John Kasich left the House. But he’s lost none of his youthful exuberance. In a real sense he carries the spirit of the late Jack Kemp, the quintessential Republican reformer who combined blue-collar appeal with a wonkish love of policy.

In a far-ranging telephone interview yesterday afternoon, Kasich showed why he’s regarded as one of the most aggressive reformers among the new crop of Republican governors. It’s clear he’s working hard. He jokes, “This is the first time in a long time I’ve gone two days without exercising and I’m not sick.” He says with relish, “I’m extremely busy.”

That’s an understatement. I wanted to talk to him about SB 5, the measure to severely curtail public employee bargaining rights and require employees to increase their contributions. (An analysis provided by his spokesman shows that had the measure been in place last year, it would have saved local governments in the state $1.1 billion.) Kasich tells me, “We’ve unveiled the most comprehensive reform budget people have seen in a generation.” The union reform is key, but “it’s only one element” to allow local governments to control their costs. He notes that under the bill public-employee unions can still negotiate for wages and working conditions, but not health care and pension benefits. It would also end public-employee union strikes and automatic pay increases.

Kasich explains that the equation between public employees and taxpayers needs to be “rebalanced,” with the idea that the taxpayers through their elected officials should control the state budget. He points to troubling examples of how the balance has gotten out of whack: “We’re in the bottom 10 [among states] in dollars in the classroom, and the top 10 in dollars for administration.” He continues to rattle off examples in which Ohio and its taxpayers have lost control of government finances. “The city of Mansfield,” he explains, “is on the way to bankruptcy.” He denies accusations that he is out to get the unions. “Nothing could be farther from the truth,” he says. He points to some compelling math: The average Ohioan must pay 23 percent.of his own health care; government workers pay only 9 percent.

He quickly returns to his main point: The union bill is only one of a long list of reforms that include Medicaid reform, prison reform, a strategy to use profits from state-run liquor businesses to fund a public-private job-creation entity to replace the state development department, and a massive overhaul of education (including lifting caps on charter schools, increasing school vouchers, ending “last hired/first fired” teacher tenure rules and inviting Teach America participants to come into the schools.) Moreover, he says, “we’ve asked state agencies, departments and bureaus to come in with savings below last year’s [budget].”

He says the business community has noticed the change. A major developer in the state who controls tens of millions of square feet of commercial real estate shared with him that “there is a real buzz among the business community that the [Kasich] administration really does get it.” He reels off a list of job-creation efforts. It includes a new warehouse, a new motion picture to shoot in the state and successful outreach to California business. Of the last, he cracks, “We sent a delegation to that foreign country — California.” He relates that of the 20 companies they met with, “12 expressed an interest” in Ohio.

But the glass-half-full governor says that because his predecessor so mismanaged the state’s budget he is able to make visible progress rather quickly.

A case in point is Medicaid. Kasich has been crisis-crossing the state selling Ohio voters on a revamp of the Medicaid system. That includes shifting resources from nursing home care to home-based care and moving to outcome-based medical care. (Kasich says the nursing home industry is a vested interest and a lonely voice that has opposed the change.) Kasich is negotiating with the federal Department of Health and Human Services to allow the system of long-term care to be streamlined.

Kasich is generally pleased with the level of bipartisan support for his agenda, although he notes that this is more true in the state Senate than in the House. (A transportation bill passed overwhelming in the state Senate but along party lines in the House.) He says, “I’m a believer in bipartisanship.” While his Democratic opponents may look at him as the “enemy,” he says, “I don’t look at life that way.”