‘Business as usual’ not what Ohio needs

Driving on I-71 between Cleveland and Columbus, you’re supposed to keep your eyes on the road. But in Morrow County, below Mansfield, you might notice milepost 147. Congratulations: Till you and your car zoom ahead, you’re almost at Ohio’s population center as calculated by the 2010 Census.

The Census says a population center is the point where an imaginary plate representing Ohio would balance “if weights of identical size were placed on (the plate) so that each weight represented the location of one (Ohioan).” So being at milepost 147 is like being at the center of a crowd of 11.5 million other Ohioans.

The Development Service Agency maps the population center. (Search for “historical centers of population for Ohio”). It’s inched north and south, east and west, alongside and east of I-71, mostly in Morrow County. Since 1970, the population center has been edging south because thousands of Clevelanders and Youngstowners have moved to Columbus. Still, the population center has hovered in one general area for 120 years — a good symbol for Ohio governorships.

Governors, like the population center, have moved a tad right, or a tad left. But come what may, most stay in the same neighborhood. Till now, that is: Because Republican Gov. John Kasich isn’t following the script his predecessors followed.

And Kasich shouldn’t, because the world has changed more than Ohio, pre-Kasich, has been willing or able to change. That is, John Kasich is scripting a new movie. And that is driving some partisans nuts.

“Business as usual” isn’t what Ohio needs, but “business as usual” has been the Ohio way. Governors, for a century, managed Ohio by tossing bones to a list of powerful interest groups: The Chamber of Commerce; check. The Ohio AFL-CIO; check. The Retail Merchants, the Manufacturers’ Association, the Farm Bureau, the Municipal League; check. And in recent decades, the leaders of Ohio’s black communities; check.

If Ohio’s governors were Republican, the Ohio Education Association and Ohio Federation of Teachers maybe didn’t do as well. If a governor were a Democrat, the OEA and AFT maybe did a little better. And no matter who was governor, banks and insurers and FirstEnergy, American Electric Power and what’re now Duke Energy and AES (owner of Dayton Power and Light), did just fine. Always do. Always will.

JobsOhio, Kasich’s state development brainstorm, may or may not be as great as he claims. But Ohio’s former Development Department was going nowhere fast. And maybe Ohio’s budget, as it had for 80 years, should have kept being little more than money-transfer service, sluicing cash, few questions asked, from taxpayers, statewide, to local governments and public schools. Foundation grants had more strings and conditions attached than those Statehouse bales. Today, some cash from Columbus arrives with questions.

Kasich’s income-tax cuts are as much business-climate billboards as nice-nice for rich Ohioans. But how soon we forget: In a jaw-dropping 2007 move by Statehouse Democrats, a move since reversed by Kasich’s budgeting, Democrats let older Ohioans, no matter how wealthy (an NFL team-owner? No problem! A bank president? Sure thing!) claim the same “homestead” property-tax break that Grandma and Grand-dad may actually need.

Policy Matters Ohio is hardly a Kasich cheerleader, and the group is calling for further homestead exemption reforms. But Policy Matters also says the change Kasich made in the exemption “moves in the right direction.”

“Direction” also cues a key issue in Kasich’s re-election contest with Democratic Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald: Whether Ohio is or isn’t moving in the right direction. But this isn’t in question: Ohio is moving. And for way too long, it didn’t.

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