$1.7 billion plan funded by state bonds would create new jobs

Timothy Magaw

COLUMBUS – Gov. Ted Strickland said Ohio is challenged, but the state’s leadership won’t back down.

“The people of our state expect a future that lifts us all,” Strickland said. “That is our calling, and we shall answer that call.”

The future of education and the economy were ringing themes in Strickland’s speech yesterday as he announced a plan to create 80,000 new jobs and the formation of a new position to head the Department of Education.

In response to current economic challenges, Strickland announced the “Building Ohio Jobs” initiative, a $1.7 billion stimulus package formed to create more than 80,000 new jobs. The program would be funded by a state bond issue that would go to voters in the November election.

“No one likes additional debt, including me,” Strickland said about the initiative during his second State of the State address. “But the national economic downturn is costing us jobs, and we need to act quickly.”

The investment, Strickland said, will serve both to create thousands of new jobs and to set the foundation for the state’s future economic success. The stimulus plan includes investments in renewable energy, state infrastructure, bioproducts that use renewable resources to create plastic, the biomedical industry, redevelopment of downtowns throughout the state and the preservation of farm land and open space.

The plan also calls for $400 million to be invested in the Ohio Public Works Commission to help with road, bridge and sewer projects, which Strickland said bring growth to towns and cities and “make them places where people want to live and companies want to do business.”

House Speaker Jon Husted, a Kettering Republican, said it’s important the state keep in mind the importance of fiscal responsibility. He expressed concern if whether borrowing money was the best way to solve economic problems.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about fiscal responsibility in the last couple of weeks,” Husted said. “Well, we want to be fiscally responsible and we want to make sure what’s happening in Washington doesn’t happen in Columbus.”

Rep. Kathleen Chandler, a Kent Democrat, said the jobs initiative will help fight the economic downturn.

“It means a lot because Portage County is in the path of growth in Northeast Ohio,” Chandler said, adding that the county has large numbers of unemployment and home foreclosures.

The speech quickly tuned from the economy to education, which Strickland said is the central issue he faces as governor.

Strickland called to the take control of the Department of Education from the State Board of Education and the state superintendent and put the department under the authority of a new director position. The governor said the existing structure of the department would serve in an advisory role and any position determined by the new director.

“The most important duty of the state should not be overseen by an unwieldy department with splintered accountability,” Strickland said about the move, which is similar to the one he took last year to gain control over the state’s universities and colleges. “This change in organizational structure will ensure, like higher education, that there is a direct line of responsibility and accountability in K through 12 education.”

Husted expressed apprehension about making the school board and superintendent obsolete or to serve in an advisory role.

“I’m not sure exactly what would be the best choice,” he said. “It seems to me that the superintendent’s salary is awfully expensive for an adviser.”

Strickland also called for the creation of the Ohio Department of Veterans Affairs, which he said would consolidate the state’s veteran’s programs into a cabinet-level agency.

The governor’s tone was optimistic despite his recent announcement to offset the projected budget shortfall with more than $733 million in budget cuts, which will eliminate up to 2,700 jobs and close two mental hospitals. The governor also made no mention of his announcement to expand the Ohio Lottery to boost revenue by $73 million, which has drawn criticism from Republicans.

“We must have the courage to recognize the challenges facing our people,” Strickland said. “We must have the courage to invest in ourselves in order to make Ohio stronger.”

Contact public affairs reporter Timothy Magaw at [email protected].