The state of the state address returned to the statehouse Monday after several years of being held away from the capital in venues across the state.
Former Governor John Kasich began moving the State of the State address after delivering it at the Statehouse in the first year of his governorship.
The return of the speech delivered primarily to the members of the legislature to the People’s House was appreciated by lawmakers who acknowledged the tradition of it being held there.
As was tradition, Senate President and the Speaker of the House opened the ceremony by calling a joint session of the House and Senate to order and introducing the governor.
DeWine took to the dais and stood flanked by the two leaders of the legislature, both of which showed unwavering resolve in their ability to stand for the entire 45-minute speech.
Previous years, saw the two legislative leaders seated not far from Governor Kasich.
It seems the differences between Governor’s DeWine and Kasich do not stop at how they presented the State of the State and extend into areas of concern and leadership style.
“Members of the General Assembly, if our state is to move forward, we must govern together,” said DeWine as he started his speech.
It is no secret there was friction between the Kasich Administration and the legislature during the last General Assembly. Kasich refused to sign the Heartbeat Abortion bill and the majority party refused to pass legislation based on what he called common sense gun laws.
The tension goes deeper than those issues, however, into the budget of 2017 where Kasich vetoed an attempt at freezing the state expansion of Medicaid.
That veto was never overturned, but it and the topic of healthcare funding hung over the General Assembly like a cloud.
This General Assembly, Governor DeWine is stressing a need to work collaboratively. Not just between governmental branches, legislative to executive, but at the Statehouse between parties as well.
In his speech, DeWine took a moment to openly address that he has sat down with Democrats, over breakfast with his wife Fran no less, to discuss the issues the caucus has.
He pledged to work together with them on areas of common ground.
Some Democrats are onboard saying that DeWine is in many ways taking on common Democratic Party platform planks.
We’ve talked about early childhood; we’ve talked about lead; we’ve talked about funding CSB (community shelter boards); we’ve talked about infrastructure; these are things that we’ve been talking about for the last 8 years,” said State Senator Sean O’Brien.
Senate President Larry Obhof said in the Majority Party response to the State of the State just minutes after it concluded that the Republican Caucus appreciates “his long-term view of the issues and particularly focusing on some of the key investments that we can and we should be making to protect the most vulnerable among us and try to improve our efforts on infant mortality; to focus on early childhood education; to protect and preserve Lake Erie and our other waterways and build on what is already a tremendous park system that we have throughout the state.”
It appears the caucus may be shifting its priorities from the last General Assembly where a bill introduced by then State Senator Charleta Tavares would have in part addressed infant mortality rates in Ohio through cultural competency training. It received a hearing in March of 2017 then sat in limbo for over a year before getting a second hearing in June of 2018. It received no third hearing for opponents to testify, and when it failed to make it out of committee in the Senate it died at the end of the session in December.
Now, with DeWine in the Governor’s Mansion and his focus on the children of Ohio, things may change at the Statehouse.
In his address, DeWine talked about dealing with unfinished business, and one of the biggest financial burdens the State will have to resolve has been left over from the previous administration; a decaying road and bridge system.
“We have neglected them too long – and we now face a crisis today that must be addressed immediately,” said DeWine.
State maintained infrastructure needs in Ohio have been masked by borrowing, said DeWine, for the past 8 years.
Under the Kasich Administration, the Ohio Department of Transportation borrowed and borrowed and borrowed some more; “now our credit cards are literally maxed out and we simply cannot borrow any more,” said DeWine.
DeWine announced that ODOT’s total debt is now almost $4 billion and this year the State will have to spend $390 million just in debt payments alone before a single penny can be spent on maintaining roads and bridges.
DeWine did not sugar coat the situation with Ohio’s roads and bridges, saying there are nearly 2,600 bridges rated in poor condition across the state.
DeWine insisted that his 18-cent gas tax increase solution is one carefully crafted.
“Let me assure you that I am taking a minimalist, conservative approach, with this being the absolute bare minimum we need to protect our families and economy,” said DeWine. “If we do nothing, more Ohioans will get hurt. And more Ohioans will die.”
It is a dire warning, but his plea to fund the solution with $1.2 billion from the gas tax increase is falling on some deaf ears in the Republican Caucus.
“The Ohioans that i know right now in my district, you know they can’t afford a tax increase, we should be trying to cut their taxes and not increase them,” said State Representative Niraj Antani.
When asked if he is against increasing the gas tax, Antani had this to say, “So long as the House version of the budget includes a tax increase I cannot support it.”
Antani isn’t the only conservative balking at raising taxes. Jenna Powell is a freshman lawmaker representing Miami County and part of Darke County on the State’s central west side.
“Infrastructure is crucial to our state, but the way that DeWine is going about funding our infrastructure is not the right way of doing it,” said Powell.
When asked if she was concerned about increasing the gas tax she said, “More than concerned. I think it’s a really horrible idea.”
Most Democrats have been less open with whether they support or oppose an increase, but State Representative Jack Cera says voting against it would do more harm than good.
“It’s irresponsible because the need is really there,” said Cera.
Cera applauded DeWine for taking on tough issues with no easy solutions.
But the Democrats also were disappointed that the situation in northeast Ohio was not addressed in DeWine’s State of the State speech.
“A very good first step would just be to acknowledge what is happening in Lordestown and acknowledge the heartache that people are feeling in the Mahoning Valley that is spreading throughout the state of Ohio from all of these auxiliary organizations and companies that are no longer going to be in business because of the GM plant shutting down,” said House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes during the Minority Caucus’ response news conference held right after the address.
Speaking for millions of Ohioans that do not feel like the party in power has their best interests at heart, Sykes stated things clearly.
“The governor struck the right tone,” said Sykes. “He had a wonderful message that was hopeful but we need results.”
So far, there has been a lot of talk about working collaboratively, across the aisle here at the Statehouse and between the Governor’s administration and lawmakers.
Time will tell if that is all it is, or if action will back those words up.
In speaking with a longtime lawmaker before the address, it was mentioned that compromise can be reached at the negotiation table; but they say as soon as those deals reach the ears of the lawmakers on the fringe things fall apart; and that there isn’t enough representation in the center and that is making things difficult to get things done for all Ohioans in the capital.