Standing before a crowded House chamber in his first State of the State address, Governor Mike DeWine laid out his priorities to members of the Ohio House and Senate. Those priorities, which include an increase in the gas tax and other items slated to appear in his first biennial budget, are what Gov. DeWine termed as investments in Ohio’s future and Ohio’s “unfinished business,” taken from a quote by President John F. Kennedy.
Gov. DeWine opened the policy part of his speech discussing the need for an increase in Ohio’s gas tax. Noting that $1 worth of spending through the gas tax in 2005 is now worth only $.58 today, DeWine said that Ohio’s roads and bridges have been neglected for too long and that the state faces a crisis that must be dealt with immediately. Some of the other statistics quoted were sobering, among them being that 2,600 bridges under local government control are rated in poor condition, and that the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) current carries almost $4 billion in debt, with annual debt service levels reaching $390 million, both historic highs.
Citing the amount of the recommended tax increase, Gov. DeWine noted that the $1.2 billion generated by an 18 cent tax increase is only enough to maintain roads in their current conditions and do modest improvements to specific roads. Those improvements would focus on the 150 roads and intersections identified by ODOT as the most dangerous in the state. Gov. DeWine said this is the “smallest amount that we can ask for to keep our families safe” and that it is “time for all of us to collectively act.”
While the rest of the speech did not reveal any big surprises in the biennial budget, the speech did demonstrate that the budget will contain many smaller-sized programs designed to address specific problems within the state. Embracing a theme of protecting those “in the dawn of life, the twilight of life, and the shadows of life,” DeWine announced plans to combat Ohio’s dismal national ranking in the mortality rate for African-American infants with increased emphasis on outreach to at-risk communities. To combat the continuing opiate epidemic, DeWine unveiled plans to leverage public-private partnerships for investments in public health funding and expanding the state’s treatment capacity with crisis support for children with mental health and addiction issues. Mandatory K-12 drug education requirements, more courts with drug-related specialty dockets, and a new narcotics investigative unit (in conjunction with Attorney General David Yost) will also be part of the DeWine Administration’s efforts to combat the epidemic.
Workforce development was a big part of the DeWine/Husted campaign, and Gov. DeWine noted the efforts of Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted to reinvent Ohio’s workforce development programs. Through the newly-created Innovate Ohio office, the DeWine Administration is seeking to increase by 10,000 the number of industry certificates issued this year and to establish the most aggressive workforce development and job retraining program in Ohio’s history.
Finally, Gov. DeWine spent some time discussing Ohio’s natural resources and the state’s role in preserving them for future generations. Clean water, DeWine stated, is an issue that affects every Ohioan, and that government has a role in making sure all Ohioans have access to clean water sources. Praising the Senate’s work in SB 2 to save Lake Erie, the “jewel of Ohio,” and the House’s work in emphasizing air quality, the Administration’s budget will feature increased funding for combating algal blooms while also promoting efforts to create an “all of the above” clean energy policy.
As we await the unveiling of the Administration’s budget around March 15th, the first State of the State address by Gov. Mike DeWine serves as an important blueprint for his priorities and his vision of Ohio’s future. We will certainly see several changes to that budget proposal made by the House and the Senate, and with the new leadership in the House and in the Governor’s mansion, there is little doubt that the next several months will be interesting times in policy making and political maneuvering. The team at ZHF Consulting will continue to keep you updated as things progress.