Taking a break from the national campaign trail, Gov. John Kasich returned to Ohio Wednesday to deliver a 65-minute State of the State address that had him re-purposing pieces of his presidential campaign stump speech and promising action in Ohio on job training, college affordability and drug addiction.
Kasich laced the speech with anecdotes that he commonly uses on the campaign trail, including his belief that God makes each person special.
As in past addresses, Kasich focused on the opiate and heroin addiction problems gripping cities, suburbs and rural communities.
“I’ve met mothers and fathers who get up every day and wonder if it’s all going to come tumbling down. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. We have to win this war,” Kasich said. He noted that stronger state regulations led to a 12 percent drop over the past four years in prescriptions written for pain killers and a 70 percent decline in doctor shopping over the past five years.
Kasich said he would push for more changes in how pharmacy workers are trained to help combat opiate prescription abuse. Ohio is one of a handful of states that do not regulate technicians.
Kasich also endorsed congressional redistricting reforms to eliminate gerrymandering — a line that got a smattering of applause.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said in a written statement that the governor’s endorsement gives the cause a lift. “To fix the broken system in Washington, we must start by fixing the broken system at home,” Husted said. “Congressional redistricting reform’s time has come.”
Kasich also said he would push for more tax reform early next year. “That fundamentally means lower income taxes, okay?”
Immediately, he’ll push to accelerate an already-passed income tax cut so that Ohioans get the benefit now rather than when they file their state income tax returns. State Budget Director Tim Keen said he does not know how much more money the average Ohio worker would see in paychecks due to the change.
Kasich said lower taxes, streamlined regulations, and fiscal responsibility is a successful formula. “The progress that we are making is giving hope, not only to Ohioans, but to many other people across our great country,” he said.
House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, said doubling down on tax cuts just means there is less money available for government services at a local level and less state support for making public colleges affordable.
But state Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., said the governor hit on important talking points in his address. “I especially appreciated Gov. Kasich’s focus on workforce development, which is the most critical issue to the Dayton area’s economy,” Antani said. “I look forward to supporting his workforce development and higher education initiatives this year.”
Kasich spoke from an auditorium in Marietta, a small town of 14,000 at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers in Washington County. GOP front runner Donald Trump won the county in last month’s Ohio primary by just 25 votes, according to unofficial results.
In July, Kasich announced his bid for the GOP nomination for president, a campaign that has kept him on the road outside of Ohio for much of the past year. His last major public speech in Ohio — not tied to his presidential campaign — was 106 days ago on Dec. 22.
As in other speeches, Kasich skipped using a Tele-prompter but instead read from extensive notes. The result was a tighter address with fewer non-sequiters, shout outs and rambling asides.
Kasich invited Democratic leaders to join him on the state-owned passenger plane for the trip to Marietta. Strahorn said he had already made plans to carpool with colleagues while Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, accepted the invitation, saying it was a good opportunity to press Kasich on legislative matters.
Democrats and liberal groups argued that the state of the state isn’t that great.
Innovation Ohio noted that Marietta’s struggles are typical of challenges faced by scores of communities across Ohio. Nearly 40 percent of Marietta kids live in poverty and the median household income is $10,000 below the statewide average. The Kasich administration budget cuts translate annually into almost $1 million less for the city of Marietta and $1.7 million less for Marietta schools, the group said.
“While Gov. Kasich’s push to expand Medicaid has helped many in Marietta access care, the median household income lags the statewide average, tax shifting policies strain lower-income residents, and local schools continue to lose valuable state finding,” Innovation Ohio reported.
Ohio trails the national averages in infant mortality, hunger, home foreclosure, poverty, median income, job growth and high school graduation rates, according to OneOhioNow, a coalition of more than 100 human service, labor and advocacy groups.
OneOhioNow researched whether the GOP-backed tax cuts of 2005 have delivered on the promise of job growth and economic prosperity. They haven’t, according to the group. Instead, Ohio has $3.5 billion less each year to apply to problems like college affordability, infant mortality and poverty, OneOhioNow said.
Kasich returns to the presidential campaign trail with stops in Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York on Thursday and appearances in New York and Connecticut on Friday and Saturday.