State of the State: Drugs, jobs, taxes are on Kasich’s agenda

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State of the State: Drugs, jobs, taxes are on Kasich’s agenda

Every year since he took office in January 2011, Gov. John Kasich has used his annual State of the State address to talk about tax reform, job creation and drug addiction.

When he takes the stage at the Sandusky State Theatre at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the governor will hit those topics again.

While the governor focuses on the scourge of drug addiction, fatal overdose numbers continue to rise. In 2011 — the first year of the Kasich administration — 1,772 Ohioans died of drug overdoses. But that nearly doubled to 3,050 fatal drug overdoses in 2015, the latest data available.

Ohio has cracked down on pill mills, issued prescribing guidelines, stepped up drug interdiction efforts on state roadways, mandated use of a prescription tracking system and expanded Medicaid to cover 700,000 Ohioans, 30 percent of whom have substance abuse problems.

Democrats in the Ohio House fired off a litany of criticism of Kasich on the eve of this address. They want him to recognize the opioid epidemic as a statewide emergency and release funding.

Democrats also noted that Ohio’s job growth has trailed the national average for more than four years; household income in Ohio is below the national average; 33 cities in the state are in fiscal distress after state funding cuts, and Education Week ranks Ohio’s K-12 system 22nd in the nation.

Tax cuts and shifts have harmed working families, said House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, in a written release. “Ohioans deserve to hear honest remarks from the governor on his plan to address the economic and other challenges facing our state, because so far his plan just seems to be more of the same.”

OneOhioNow.com, a coalition of labor, human services and advocacy groups, released a report this week showing Ohio is struggling with infant mortality, hunger, home foreclosures, high college costs, poverty, job growth and more.

When Kasich first took office, Ohio’s unemployment rate in February 2011 stood at 9.2 percent. Six years later it stands at 5.9 percent. But while the jobless rate fell, Ohio’s poverty rate grew from 13.6 percent to 14.8 percent during that time.

Kasich cut income tax rates and bumped up taxes on sales and tobacco products. The top income tax bracket is 4.997 percent, down from 5.925 in 2011. The state sales tax rate is 5.75 percent, up from 5.5 percent when Kasich first became governor.

In his budget proposal now pending in the Ohio House Finance Committee, Kasich pitched cutting income taxes by 17 percent, boosting sales taxes to 6.25 percent, adding a penny to the tax on a can of beer or glass of wine and increasing cigarette taxes to $2.25 per pack. The House, which is expected to strip out much of the tax reform proposals, is scheduled to vote on the $144 billion, two-year spending plan next month.

Kasich is once again taking his State of the State show on the road. The Republican from Westerville likes to break the tradition of holding the speech at the Ohio Statehouse and instead spoken in Steubenville, Lima, Medina, Wilmington and Marietta.

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