BY NANCY SPENCER
LIMA - Governor John Kasich told the crowd of 1,700 at the Civic Center Tuesday night "the world is watching Ohio" to see what happens next.
"There is something unique about Ohio, something special," Kasich said. "We've all seen our state drift over time, we've seen it get old, we've seen it misfire and fall behind but like a great old home, I knew Ohio could be restored to its grandeur, to its greatness."
Kasich pointed to the creation of 120,400 jobs making the state the number one in the Midwest and sixth in the nation in job creation.
"Our credit outlook has improved and we've seen advances in manufacturing. Unemployment went from 10.8 percent to 7 percent. Right here in Lima, there were 2,200 new private sector jobs created," he said. "We have a balanced budget. We started with 89 cents in our Rainy Day Fund and we now have a $1.9 billion surplus. We didn't just cut. We re-engineered. We re-invented Medicaid and coordinated health care. Other states are looking at what we have done."
Kasich attended the recent Global Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and found people wanted to talk to him.
"They wanted to talk about what we are doing here in Ohio," he said.Kasich said JobsOhio is a "vital economic driver that's diversifying Ohio's economy from just one or two sectors to include bio-health, auto manufacturing, financial services, aerospace, IT, agri-business and energy."
Kasich also said Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor's Common Sense Initiative is making things easier on the private sector without undue risk.
"If you use common sense, you in fact can protect people's safety, you in fact can protect our environment and still have job creation in this state," Kasich said.
The administration has also seen the state workforce drop to its lowest levels in 30 years.
Kasich 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? Or, I've got another one for you, should we spend the surplus? Just kind of take the foot off the gas?" he asked. "Well, we're going to keep our foot on the gas."
Kasich asking for a plan to overhaul the state's school funding plan, an expansion of Medicaid under the federal health reform law and an overhaul in his $63.2 billion, two-year budget of the state's tax structure.
Kasich's plans include overhauling Ohio's tax code to lower rates for sales, income and small-business taxes, broadening the tax base to include a list of services and raising the severance tax on high-volume oil and gas drillers swarming the eastern half of the state.
Kasich also 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.
"This action is vital to help Ohio's safety net for the poor and particularly for the mentally ill," Kasich said. "Some of them live under bridges, some of them live on streets, some of them are in our jails tonight."
Kasich defended the merits of his new school-funding formula, which gives $1.2 billion more to K-12 education and applies equally to all districts based on their property tax wealth, residents' income and their students.
"Ohio must help those schools that can't help themselves," he said. "Education needs to be driven by the needs of the students not adults. No district will receive less than they did last year but we are in a period of transition. In the future, school districts may not get as much as they have in the past."
Kasich looked out at the crowd and acknowledged it would not be easy.
This is a big agenda. There's a lot of stuff here," he said. "We will need a big lift to get this done. All these policies are intended to create jobs - our greatest moral purpose."