NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Gov. John Kasich said Thursday that he still has a lot to accomplish to fix the problems plaguing the state he took over in January.
“I came into office and I found the largest budget deficit in the history of our state: $8 billion,” Kasich told a crowd of about 200 people gathered at Kalt Manufacturing to hear him speak.
Since he took office four months ago, Kasich said he’s done what he believes is right — even if it isn’t popular — to address the budget crisis and help the state’s economy turn around.
The state has lost jobs, businesses and educated young people at an alarming rate, the governor said. But since he has taken over, Kasich said he has begun to shift the climate to be more friendly to business while he tackles the state’s budget problems.
He said state government needs to treat its budget like a family does.
“If you’ve got less money, you’ve got to figure out what your priorities are,” said Kasich, a Republican.
One key way he said he’s done that is trying to deal with the budget in innovative ways, including the controversial Senate Bill 5, which has stripped many collective bargaining rights from the unions representing public employees.
He also said he wants public workers to pay more for health care and contribute more to their retirements.
He said it’s unfair that the average private employee pays 23 percent of their health insurance, while public workers pay an average of 9 percent.
Not everyone was sold on Kasich’s reforms, including Sheffield Mayor John Hunter, a Democrat, who challenged the governor, saying he feels the cuts have come at the expense of workers and not businesses and the wealthy.
Kasich said he wasn’t expempting anyone from his reforms, but the private sector has suffered far more in recent times than public employees have, dealing with rising costs, shrinking or disappearing retirement plans and unemployment.
Kasich promised to have someone from his economic development team talk to Hunter and other local mayors about how they can bring business to the area and improve their economy and bottom line.
After Kasich had finished his speech and taking audience questions, Hunter said that while he looks forward to meeting with the economic development person from Kasich’s office, he still has grave reservations about the steps the governor has taken.
“He’s got his plan, and his plan is to balance the budget on the backs of the working people,” Hunter said.
North Ridgeville Mayor Dave Gillock, who called the event a success, said later that while he shares some of Hunter’s concerns, he also understands what Kasich is trying to do.
“He does seem willing to listen,” Gillock said. “My concern is it can’t be disproportionate.”
Hunter wasn’t alone in questioning some of the moves Kasich has made. Also attending the event was Grafton Village Council President Tom Smith, who said he is concerned about the impact of Kasich’s plans to sell several state prisons, including two in Grafton, to private companies.
“It reduces our income and increases our cost for police protection,” Smith said.
Kasich said that one of Smith’s concerns — that the privately owned prisons won’t have to pay property taxes — has already been addressed.
The governor also said his plan will shift low-level offenders to private prisons, which he said are less violent and cheaper to run, while keeping the worst criminals in the state-owned facilities.
“What we’re trying to do is control our prison costs,” Kasich said. “Our prisons are more crowded, they’re more violent and they’re more costly.”
Kasich also tackled criticism from John O’Neill, owner of the North Ridgeville-based nursing home group O’Neill Management. O’Neill said he had concerns about the rhetoric Kasich used to discuss his recent clashes with nursing homes over his plan to reduce state funding to such facilities and increase the focus on home health care.
Earlier in his remarks, Kasich pointed out that his efforts had met with fierce objections from a nursing home association — which O’Neill said he wasn’t a member of — that had run an ad that featured a plug being pulled and a heart monitor flatlining.
O’Neill said his company has improved quality and taken considerable cuts over the years.
Although he acknowledged that some people do need the care provided by nursing homes, Kasich said if seniors can spend their later years at home, they’ll be happier and more independent than if they go into a nursing home.
“If mom and dad can stay in their own home, their costs are going to be cheaper,” Kasich said.
Kasich’s recent complaints about the color of his new Ohio driver’s license also came up, during Gillock’s opening remarks. He told Kasich not to worry, the license was salmon-colored, not pink.
That prompted Kasich, who later showed off his new license to the media, to take an informal poll of the crowd.
“How many of you want pink?” he asked, drawing laughs from the crowd.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.