LIMA, Ohio (AP) — Gov. John Kasich made his case for passing a sweeping budget whose elements he said work closely together to fix taxes, help businesses and the poor and educate the state's future workforce, and he challenged lawmakers to embrace "big ideas."
The Republican governor's third State of the State address at Lima's Civic Center was an impassioned plea for senators and representatives to search their consciences to support his proposal to expand Medicaid and to be remembered as "people who build up," not tear down. He said now is not the time to "rest on our laurels."
"We must not fear big ideas. We must embrace them," he told about 1,700 lawmakers and guests and a televised audience on Tuesday night. "Oh, yeah, let's debate them... but embrace them because at the end of the day ... it will renew us, it will restore our youth."
Kasich said risky ideas lawmakers have already supported — including the privatized JobsOhio job creation agency and regulatory retooling — are working. He said the state is getting attention across the globe, including at the recent Global Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Nonetheless, state lawmakers of both major parties expressed reservations after the speech about aspects of Kasich's plan: Republicans primarily over expansion of Medicaid, a state-federal health insurance program, and Democrats about the school funding proposal, which they say doesn't do enough for poor districts.
State Sen. Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat, called the governor's funding plan "a slap in the face" for her city and its students.
"What are the students and the children — the 1.8 million of them — what are they guaranteed in this budget in the state of Ohio?" Turner asked. "As far as I am concerned, not enough. And we need to step up to the plate."
Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina, also expressed concerns with the governor's funding formula, but he said he agreed with the concept of the plan.
"We just need to make sure that there's not unintended consequences that frankly cause problems for districts that are not wealthy" and are doing a good job, he said.
Kasich is pushing for support of several key proposals in his $63.2 billion, two-year budget, including his plan to overhaul the state's tax code and school funding, plus expand Medicaid under the new federal health law. With less than two years to go in his term, he said now isn't the time to let up.
"Should we just rest on our laurels? That's what most people think, when we pull out of the depths of where we were, just kind of relax. Should we just put the state on cruise control?" he asked. "... Well, we're going to keep our foot on the gas here in the administration, and we hope you will join us."
Kasich, who grew up in McKees Rocks, Pa., recalled visiting Ohio on vacation as a boy and loving it so much he knew it would be his home.
"We've all seen our state drift over time, we've seen it get old, we've seen in misfire and fall behind, but like a great old home, I knew Ohio could be restored to its grandeur, to its greatness," he said.
He said Ohio's tax code is antiquated and needs an overhaul. His plan includes reducing rates for sales, income and small-business taxes, broadening the sales tax base to include a laundry list of new services and raising the severance tax on high-volume oil and gas drillers swarming the eastern half of the state.
Kasich also defended the merits of his new school funding formula, which delivers $1.2 billion more to K-12 education by first raising base funding then providing add-ons for poor, disabled, gifted and other categories of students. He called it an objective plan that applies equally to all districts based on their property tax wealth, residents' income and individual characteristics of students they serve.
Perhaps in the evening's most impassioned moment, Kasich encouraged lawmakers to support his decision to expand Medicaid. The state would see $2.4 billion from Washington to cover those newly eligible for Medicaid over the next two years beginning in July. Kasich said the action is vital to help Ohio's safety net for the poor and particularly for the mentally ill.
"Some of them live under bridges. Some of them live on streets," he said. "Some of them are in our jails tonight."