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10 things at Statehouse this week

BY MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Chief Published: February 3, 2017 9:50 AM

COLUMBUS -- It was mostly budget talk at the Statehouse, as Gov. John Kasich offered his proposed two-year spending plan and lawmakers began discussions the resulting legislation.

Here are 10 things that happened around the Statehouse this week:

1. All Budget, All the Time: Kasich spent a big portion of his public schedule talking about his executive budget proposal, the legislation that will control state spending over the next two fiscal years.

The governor included a lot of policy changes in the plan, but not as many as the administration could have. And Kasich isn't expecting his entire tax reform package to approved as-is.

"You ask for a lot, and you get a little, but a little's better than none," the governor said.

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But Kasich continues to push for a lower income tax.

"All taxes are not equal," he said. "There are taxes that are a drag on the economy more than other taxes. When you have high income tax, that's a drag. When you have consumption taxes, where people are in a position as long as you're protecting people at the bottom, as long as you do that, then you are moving in the right direction -- lower income [tax], higher consumption [tax] with a net net."

2. The Flip Side: Add Republican state Auditor (and attorney general candidate) Dave Yost to the list of Republicans who aren't supportive of a sales tax hike.

"For the life of me, I can't understand why it's a good thing to expand the sales tax, the consumption tax, in Ohio," Yost said during an Ohio Associated Press forum in Columbus. "That's going to discourage consumption demand, and consequently is going to, I think, dilute the strength of the economy going into the future."

He added, "The stronger the economy, of course, the more we get revenue increases in all areas, right? If the economy is increasing, we're going to have more income, more sales, more severance tax, more excise tax. I'm not sure that tax shift is well considered or the right thing for the economy in Ohio."

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3. Death Penalty: Kasich was asked during that Ohio AP event whether the state would ever be in a position to carry out an execution, given ongoing legal wrangling over protocols and difficulties finding the drugs used in the process, both leading to repeated postponements of scheduled lethal injections.

"I don't know," Kasich said. "I just don't have the answer to that We have a guy that raped and murdered a 3-year-old girl. He's next in line. I can't tell the judges what to do. Some of them are probably philosophically opposed to the death penalty. No matter what we do, they're going to remain opposed to it. I don't have any better answer to that."

He added, "I would like to proceed. There's no joy or anything in this. It's just it's a matter of justice, particularly for the families that have been aggrieved. We'll do the best we can."

4. 2018 Watch: Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine still aren't publicly discussing their plans for the 2018 election. But one other statewide candidate did confirm his intentions.

Former Senate President and current state Rep. Keith Faber (R-Celina) told The Columbus Dispatch that he plans to run for state auditor.

5. Democrats: Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper offered a snapshot of some of the Democrats who might be considering a gubernatorial run.

The list is lengthy: former Attorney General Richard Cordray, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former state Rep. Connie Pillich, Congressman Tim Ryan, former Congresswoman Betty Sutton, former state Sen. Nina Turner, current Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni and Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O'Neill.

The state party isn't taking sides (yet), but Pepper had a bottom-line message to potential candidates.

"People need to get moving," he said. "I ran statewide. You can't start in May or June, you have to start early The one message I'm giving everyone is if you're going to run for this, this is a huge state, this is going to be expensive, and we need to be moving from exploratory to actual running, as in right now."

6. Lame Duck? Lawmakers on a panel at the AP event were asked about the governor's lame duck status -- he's in his final two years on the job.

Sen. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton), who heads the Senate Finance Committee, said it wouldn't be a good idea for Republican lawmakers to get into skirmishes with Kasich, particularly heading into a potentially heated 2018 primary season.

"Historically, the party of the governor has to be pretty cautious about the strength of the governor going into a political cycle, because oftentimes if your governor's weak for whatever reason, your next election cycle could be not too pleasant an experience for people that are running with him," he said, adding, "The last thing we want to do as Republicans is to get in an argument with our governor and suddenly make it look to the people of Ohio that we can't get things done, that we're arguing with each other, that there's roadblocks, that it looks like there's turmoil."

7. Human Trafficking: State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) played host to the Eighth Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day at the Statehouse.

The two-day event was an opportunity for lawmakers, officers, advocates and survivors of human trafficking to discuss the issue and ways to combat it.

"While we have made great strides at the state level to halt the spread of human trafficking, we cannot let up now. Law enforcement, advocates, families and survivors must continue to work together to raise awareness and protect vulnerable men and women from being ensnared by modern day slavery," Fedor said in a released statement. "I am confident that by bringing diverse voices from all across the state to the same table, we can make positive progress toward finally ending human trafficking in our state."

8. Scams: DeWine warned residents to beware suspicious callers asking, "Can you hear me?"

Scammers apparently are using the tactic as part of efforts to steal identities and place unwanted charges on phone or utility bills.

"Any time people receive a call that's suspicious, we encourage them to be very careful and not to respond to the call," DeWine said in a released statement. "When in doubt, just hang up. If you need help or if you suspect a scam, contact the Ohio Attorney General's Office."

9. Election Money: Husted encouraged county elections boards to tap into the $12.75 million set aside by lawmakers to help pay for electronic poll books.

Sixty-one counties have implemented the technology to date. The state is offering to cover up to 85 percent of the costs involved, though documentation is required before the end of May.

"E-Pollbooks represent a huge improvement in election technology by speeding up check-in times at the polls, reducing lines and providing more direction to both election officials and voters so we can improve the experience for everyone," Husted said in a released statement. "This is an opportunity for county boards to upgrade their equipment at a significantly reduced cost and they should not let this opportunity pass them by."

10. More Money: Ohio's Emergency Management Agency is offering up to $100,000 in grants for eligible nonprofit organizations to improve their security systems, as part of efforts to prevent, prepare for and respond to acts of terrorism.

The deadline for submissions is March 15. More information, including eligibility guidelines, is available online at ema.ohio.gov.

Marc Kovac covers the Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Reach him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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