Ohio Governor Sets Sails for Education and Jobs

OhioNews Bureau

ONB COLUMBUS: After one year in office, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland used his State of the State speech Wednesday to readjust the state’s sails, hoping to generate enough wind power through a new jobs program, increased investment in infrastructure and the reorganization of primary and secondary education that will give high school seniors a leg up on college to steer the ship of state to calmer seas and more prosperous shores.

“The state of our state is resolute,” Strickland said, hoping that by saying so it would make it so. He said that despite setbacks from home foreclosures and jobs losses, “Ohio is challenged, but we will not back down.”

Ohio GOP leaders sought to paint a different picture of the state's fortunes under Strickland's leadership. Citing their own set of statistics that painted a far more dour picture than the one Strickland spoke of in his address, they said Ohio ranks in the top five states for large-scale layoffs, 3rd in home foreclosures last year, with filings up 88 percent, unemployment insurance claims were the 4th highest in the nation in 2007 and 3rd in the nation in the most recent job loss reports.

Speaking to a House Chamber packed with Ohio’s 132 elected representatives and onlookers, including first lady, Francis, who looked down from the ornate gallery seats, Strickland, who as recently as last week had to ask agencies under his control to shutter facilities, trim staff and reduce operating expenses to make up for a projected budget shortfall next of between $733 million and $1.9 billion, made vision, practicality, challenge and cooperation the themes of his speech.

”What would we do if we had that spirit? What could we do if we weren't afraid? ... If we weren't afraid to work in common purpose for the common good? ... If we weren't afraid to put aside legitimate differences and seek innovative solutions? ... If we weren't afraid to risk an occasional setback in pursuit of lasting success? ... If we weren't afraid to trust each other? [Gov. Strickland, SOTS]

His introduced his proposed programs by reiterating the theme that framed his budget proposal introduced last year at this time during his first state of the state speech. He said it was important to “live within our means and invest in what’s important.”

STRICKLAND ON JOBS

”This 1.7 billion dollar jobs stimulus package will create more than 80,000 new jobs while also investing in the infrastructure and industries that will light our path to the future.

My plan is simple. We will issue 1.7 billion dollars in new bonds. Legally those dollars will only be allowed to be used for the specific purposes outlined and for no other purpose. And we will require every dollar to be audited by our state's independently elected state auditor.” [Gov. Strickland, SOTS]

With Senate President Bill Harris and House Speaker John Husted sitting behind him on the elevated marble dais of the chamber, Strickland described in broad strokes his plans to revive Ohio’s ailing economy by creating 80,000 new jobs through the Building Ohio Jobs program, which he proposes to fund with the sale of $1.7 billion in bonds.

In addition to the 250 new schools built last year, he ticked off a list of major employers and the jobs they were either creating or retaining. From Ford and GM to Amlin and Cardinal Health, to Continental Airline and Good Year, he said proposed investments from these corporate giants would create many needed jobs.

In reality, Ohio lost more than 15,000 jobs in 2007, and prospects of the damage a new recession could have on Ohio, which was one of three states that didn’t bounce back from the last recession in 2001, was on everyone’s mind.

A key component to his jobs program is investing in more needed and necessary infrastructure. To this end, the silver-haired, soft-spoken governor who hails from poverty in southern Ohio said he wants to pour $250 million in solar, wind and new cola technology; $150 million into infrastructure; $100 million into bioproducts – his show and tell demonstration consisted of a coffee cup made of corn plastics.

Continuing, he called for $200 million investment into biomedical products; $200 million to further redevelopment downtown areas; $400 million in the Clean Ohio Fund, which addresses brownfields and other polluted but potential development sites; $400 more for the Ohio Public Works Commission, which provides infrastructure funding for local jurisdictions, like cities, counties, waste water authorities and others. He also called for more investment in distribution infrastructure, so a company like Avon, which will locate a major distribution facility in Zanesville, Ohio, located about 80 miles east of Columbus, the capital.

”Watching, wishing, and waiting will not create Ohio jobs. But a bold and balanced investment in Ohio will.” [Gov. Strickland, SOTS]

STRICKLAND ON SCHOOLS

“Schools are our solutions,” he said, adding that “we need to create learning cultures” to keep up competitive.
Tying the success of Ohio’s future to the connection between jobs and education, Strickland, who said his first term would be a failure if he didn’t fix Ohio’s school funding problem, bowled over his audience by calling for the creation of a cabinet-level Director of Education, who would do for primary and secondary education what Chancellor Eric Fingerhut has done for higher education, by reorganizing under one person. The current state board of education and the superintendent of schools they appoint, would become advisors to the Education director.

Strickland said he’ll take Ohio from the “top 10 most expensive tuition rates” to the bottom ten..

The proposal that brought the loudest round of applause and brought many legislators, especially Democrats, to their feet was Strickland’s announcement of the Seniors to Sophomores program. It would give certain qualifying graduating seniors the choice of either completing their last year of high school or completing it, cost free, at a college or community college close to them. Course work completed would count towards college credit, and Strickland said in addition to the significant cost savings to Ohio families, students who then went onto college would start as sophomores.

”Building on the existing Post Secondary Enrollment Options plan, today I am announcing that I have directed the Chancellor to give every twelfth grader who meets the academic requirements a choice of spending their senior year in their home high school, or spending it on a University System of Ohio campus.”[Gov. Strickland, SOTS]

He listed six keys to his education plan. First among them was keeping pubic education strong. Because economic prosperity is linked to education, he said Ohio will be both visionary and practical in its solutions.

Stating what seemed to be the obvious, he said education is only as good as the quality of teachers. Strickland called for investing more in great teachers and said testing and assessments will continue, but they will be used as guides to further his idea that “specific, personal education programs” should be pursued for every student.

STIRRING STRAINS OF SUCCESS THROUGH VISION AND PRACTICALITY

”The scripture says: ‘Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.’"

And so we must cast aside fear, cast aside indifference, and summon the spirit and courage that brought the first Ohioans to this land. [Gov. Strickland, SOTS]

Like a cheerleader trying to rally the squad after a tough first half, Strickland touted Ohio’s prominence in various areas. He said Ohio remains 3rd in the nation in manufacturing, 5th among states with Fortune 500 companies, 7th in bio-resources and, if it were a country, it would rank 26th among the world’s nations.

He focused the attention of listeners by first acknowledging the sacrifices the Ohio National Guard has made in the war in Iraq, which constitute the largest deployment since World War II. With the color guard having left the chamber just minutes before his speech, he called for the creation of a department of Veterans Affairs

Recalling the pioneers who set out to seek opportunity in lands that lay to the west of the eastern seaboard, Strickland made his point that Ohio was built by people who were rugged and used their wits to survive in a land full of opportunity and obstacles.

He told the story of how the flatboats that were used by settlers to get here where dismantled and reused to build the cabins of the day. Adding to this theme of vision and practicality, he elicited a ripple of laughter by saying Ohio was the birthplace of both aviation, and the parachute.

In a short recitation of major accomplishments during his first year, the first Democratic governor in 16 years spoke of the property tax reduction for seniors 65 years and older, his expansion of health care coverage for children, the increase in state share of public education from 48% to 54% and the freezing of tuition by colleges.

SUBPRIME LENDERS ARE WARNED

He also expressed his frustration with subprime lenders who he said were not accepting their responsibility in creating the mortgage mess that has put Ohio among the nation’s leaders in home foreclosures.

He called their actions shameful, and said the state, if needed, would take a tougher course with them, including the passing new laws to bring them to account on their lending practices.

But instead of working with us, the subprime lenders stayed silent. That is unacceptable. Quite frankly, they should be ashamed. We will not sit idly by and watch subprime lenders weaken our families and communities.

If they refuse to work with us to protect Ohio homeowners then we will take action. I have ordered my Director of Commerce to draft rules that will include many elements of the foreclosure compact and will require the industry to follow them.

I'm committed to doing whatever it takes to get subprime lenders to accept responsibility, including pursuing additional legislation if necessary.

CONCERNED COMMENTS

In the milieu that followed his speech, ONB caught up with several Republican legislators to gage their view of the governor’s speech.

Kevin DeWine, a member of the Ohio House and the next leader of the Ohio GOP, said he was “unimpressed” with the good governor’s vision and practicality and said “he missed an opportunity” to do what’s important.

DeWine, who released a statement later, said...

"This is an administration that has presided over the loss of 12,000 jobs in the last year, and now they're predicting a nearly two-billion dollar budget deficit. It will take more than additional bond debt and a takeover of the education department to fix that. We've heard this speech before. His job creation plan sounds like a repackaged version of the Third Frontier program." [Kevin DeWine, GOP Statement]

Lynn Wachtmann, a fiscal and social conservative Republican House member from northwest Ohio, said it was just another example of Strickland’s “big government” solutions to problems. Anti union by philosophy, he said the teacher’s unions would be a stumbling block in implementing Strickland’s new vision for reorganizing primary and secondary education.

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal. Find ONB archives here.

If readers have a news tip or story idea about Ohio politics or government, contact the OhioNews Bureau at: ohionews@epluribusmedia.org

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How does it look for future bond sales given fiscal realities in the US? I keep hearing the muni bonds remain strong.

Anyone know?