Gov. Mike DeWine used his first State of the State address to emphasize the importance on building towards a better future. He said Ohio can do this by investing in programs that support early childhood development, public health, and workforce development - and by raising the gas tax.
At one point, DeWine asked his cabinet members who deal with health and human services, all of whom are women, to stand. He told lawmakers they’d work as a team to create a new public health fund working on substance abuse, mental health treatment and crisis support for children.
“Their focus will be on people,” says DeWine.
After seven years of former Gov. John Kasich moving his State of the State speech throughout Ohio, DeWine brought his first one back to the Statehouse, where he talked about his basic philosophy.
“I take the world as I find it and do everything I can to make it better. And through the budget we will propose, we just want to make lives better for all Ohio families,” DeWine says.
DeWine received several standing ovations among both Republicans and Democrats, such as when he talked about the need to back Ohio’s teachers.
“And let me just take a moment, while we are talking about education, to thank all of the teachers in Ohio,” DeWine says.
That was quite a contrast to Kasich’s speech in 2011, when teachers and other unionized workers protested his support of Senate Bill 5, which made major changes in collective bargaining. SB5 was later overturned by voters that same year.
DeWine said he likes a Senate bill to help clean up and protect Lake Erie. And he went one step further.
“We will create a new fund, called the “H2Ohio fund” to invest in targeted solutions to ensure safe and clean water all across the State of Ohio,” DeWine says.
But as with his public health fund, DeWine didn’t offer any financial details.
DeWine spent the first third of his speech on his proposed 18-cent gas tax increase, saying he knows some lawmakers might be tempted to try to reduce it. But he says every cent is needed just to maintain the roads and bridges as they are now.
“And I ask you for the bare minimum. I didn’t want to play any games with you. I didn’t want to over-inflate it. I wanted to tell you the truth.”
That gas tax increase proposal will be a major point of debate among representatives and senators over the next few weeks. Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron), House minority leader, says for her caucus it’s not a question of whether or not to raise the gas tax, but where the revenue goes.
“We’re going to ensure that public transit gets funded, that there are opportunities for low-wage earners and those on fixed incomes have the ability to pay for this and it does not overburden them in a way that makes it difficult for them to get to work, get to schools, get their children to doctors’ appointments because all of those things matter,” says Sykes.
Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) was especially supportive of DeWine’s agenda when it came to helping Ohio’s children. When it comes to spending more on early childhood programs and the state’s infrastructure, Lehner says it’s time to invest.
“I’m worried about fixing some of these problems, I think some of these issues have been neglected for far too long,” says Lehner.
Sen. Jay Hottinger (R-Newark) was asked if he was at all worried about overspending.
“Well we’ll see, we have to live within our means. Fortunately, the state of Ohio has to have a balanced budget and so there’s a limit to what we can do but I think what you’re gonna see is just a refocusing of the priorities,” Hottinger says.
Republicans and Democrats expressed their support in DeWine’s focus on public health and human services. But Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) says she remains reserved until she sees the actual budget proposal.
“At the end of the day this really comes down to what’s in the budget? Show me the numbers,” says Russo.
Several Democrats criticized DeWine for not talking about the GM plant in Lordstown which is set to end production this week.
DeWine is expected to release his budget plan later this month. Meanwhile, the transportation budget, which currently includes the gas tax hike, must pass by the end of March.