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State of the State shows good and bad

In his State of the State address this past week, Governor Strickland said “I believe in Ohio” many times.

I have no doubt that the governor cares about our state, and I also want to acknowledge that Frances Strickland is a great First Lady.

But, as your state senator, I must evaluate the governor’s speech based on whether his agenda meets the needs of our region and the state of Ohio as a whole.

I will discuss three parts of the governor’s State of the State address, including what I feel was the strongest part, the most concerning part and the part with which I most vehemently disagree.

It is clear that most jobs in today’s economy require lifelong learning, so I was very pleased to hear the governor talk about Ohio’s emphasis on higher education.

Since the selection of Eric Fingerhut as Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, we have seen increases in enrollment and greater collaboration between our state’s colleges and universities.

The governor noted that there are now more than 65,000 additional students enrolled at Ohio colleges than there were two years ago and enrollment at our state’s community colleges has increased by 23 percent.

The skill of Ohio’s workforce is our Number One tool in keeping and creating jobs, and the governor’s speech rightly focused on the bipartisan progress that we are making in this area. I was encouraged to hear that the Chancellor is negotiating with Cincinnati-based Proctor & Gamble to partner with Ohio colleges and universities to conduct research for new products and technologies that could help attract investment and jobs to our state.

I am still disappointed in the Strickland Administration’s lack of support for Ohio’s private career colleges and schools, which have proven to help get people into jobs or move up to higher paying positions.

But, with that being said, the governor’s comments about higher education were the strongest part of his speech.

As a lifelong resident of rural Southern Ohio, I work to the best of my ability to ensure our region is not overlooked or shortchanged in state policies. Therefore, I was concerned to hear the governor stress new initiatives for urban Ohio in his State of the State address, while the word “rural” was never mentioned.

This follows a pattern by Ohio House Speaker Armond Budish, who outlined an agenda earlier this year that focuses on Cleveland and other big urban areas.

I agree that that the future of Ohio’s big cities is important, but I do not think this focus should overshadow the importance of our state’s rural communities.

At one point in his speech, the governor said, “I believe in Ohio because our cities shine brightly as centers of commerce and culture.” However, there were no following comments about our small towns and townships and what they mean to Ohio. I do not think that is too much to ask.

I am also concerned that the governor focused almost entirely on renewable energy in his address.

It was good that he celebrated the recently-announced expansion of DuPont in Circleville and the jobs the project is expected to create. But, he did not mention coal or nuclear power as key parts of Ohio’s energy future.

Renewable resources are an important and growing part of our energy industry, but the governor’s failure to focus on coal and nuclear energy is a devastating mistake for our region.

The governor also proposed eliminating the tangible personal property tax on new wind turbine plants. This will not work unless the state extends the tax break to all parts of the energy sector and finds a way to reimburse local governments for the loss in revenue.

Not to mention, many observers believe this proposal, as presented, would be unconstitutional.

For these reasons, the governor’s urban-focused agenda and discussion of energy policy were the most concerning parts of his speech.

I think you would have to be “drinking the Strickland Kool-Aid,” so to speak, to believe the governor’s assertion that through passage of his education plan, Ohio’s school funding formula is now constitutional.

If increasing unfunded mandates on our school districts is the way to make school funding in Ohio constitutional, this could have been done a long time ago. I was

told recently by a superintendent from a district with 1,500 students that if the governor’s education proposal was fully implemented, they would have to hire 13 social workers with no additional money from the state.

Also, at the same time local districts would be required to pay for these additional mandates, the governor’s funding formula would increase disparity between what the state spends in low-wealth rural districts versus high-wealth and urban districts. This is a bad deal for Southern Ohio and the state.

If the governor’s education plan was fully implemented today, it would cost Ohio taxpayers an additional $3 billion, much of which would not be spent educating our kids, but meeting the Strickland Administration’s costly mandates. I vehemently disagree with the governor’s approach. It needs to be changed to reflect our state’s fiscal reality and ensure fairness for all schools.

The governor had some positive and encouraging things to say in his State of the State speech, but I was also left with many questions and concerns about his agenda moving forward.

I will do my best to work in a bipartisan way with the governor and my colleagues in the Legislature to address these concerns and pursue policy that will benefit all regions of our state.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.