As America gets a new president and Ohio gets the final two-year budget from Gov. John Kasich, the start of the new year contains many more questions than answers. Such as:
1. What happened to the Ohio “miracle”?
Kasich himself came up with this over-the-top label for the state’s economic turnaround. A year ago he was campaigning for president on the basis of doing for the American economy what he did for Ohio's. But now state government revenue is receding and Kasich says Ohio is on the verge of a recession.
Me: The Ohio economy, like the weather, fluctuates. Politicians take credit, mostly falsely, when things go well. Politicians take blame, mostly falsely, when things go poorly. Same as it ever was as the philosopher says. The economy is not something government can "manage", unless you want to institute the old Soviet Union's oh-so-successful "5-yr plans".
2. Can the state get a handle on its drug problem?
The Kasich administration was hailed for early recognition of and action on Ohio’s struggles with pill mills, over-prescribing doctors, opiates and heroin early on. Yet the problem continues to worsen, to the point where Ohio now leads the nation in drug deaths. So far, Kasich has rejected calls to declare a health emergency and direct even more resources into treatment. Is he going to do anything more?
Me: That the heroin epidemic continues to worsen despite the Kasich administration's "early recognition and action" tells you all you need to know about the scourge of drugs. Would you ask, "what is Ohio going to do about the fact that drugs are addictive?" Or "what is Ohio going to do about the 100% mortality rate human beings experience?" See "Dreamland: The True Story of the Heroin Epidemic" by Sam Quinones on why Ohio became ground zero for the initial epidemic.
3. What about other seeming intractable problems, such as infant mortality and the “ achievement gap” in student performance?
Again, the administration won praise for going after infant mortality right away, especially after Kasich brought it up in his first State of the State address in 2011. Still, Ohio remains at or near the bottom of statistics showing how many infants — especially African-Americans — die before reaching their first birthday. And if black children do make it to school age, they’re still much more likely than their nonminority classmates to score badly on achievement tests, despite efforts of multiple governors to tackle the problem.
Me: If Obama, America's first black president, couldn't do anything about infant African-American mortality, then how the heck can a governor? How folks think government has the power to change behaviors that place infants at risk, or groups that stigmatize learning as "acting white", is completely beyond me.
4. How much of what he wants will Kasich get from the GOP-dominated legislature in his budget proposal?
The governor already has predicted that lawmakers will yet again reject his proposal to increase the severance tax on oil and gas production, even though Ohio’s assessment is among the nation’s lowest. (The sway of the fossil fuel crowd was underscored during last year’s lame-duck session when Republican lawmakers voted to give the oil and gas folks a tax break retroactive to 2010 of more than a quarter billion dollars.) Kasich also has been repeatedly thwarted in attempts to cut state income taxes in favor of increased “consumption” taxes.
Me: How much the Kasich will get from the GOP-dominated legislature seems like a question for the GOP-dominated legislature. I'm not sure we pay politicians to be in the business of making predictions.
5. Will Kasich talk to us?
Me: Given the quality of the questions above, I think he's smart not to.