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Kasich, FitzGerald tell differing tales on state budget

Previewing their strategies for the 2014 election, Republican Gov. John Kasich and likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald told contrasting stories on Thursday about what the most recent state budget means for Ohioans.

FitzGerald in a news conference highlighted the abortion regulations that Republican lawmakers inserted into the budget late in the budget process. He offered to help form a coalition to try to repeal the measures in November 2014 through a citizen-driven ballot measure called an initiated statute, or to work on overturning them through court challenges.

Kasich later in the day invited reporters to observe his staff deposit a roughly $996 million check into the state’s rainy-day fund — the money is what’s left over after Republican lawmakers used some of a $2 billion surplus from the 2011-2012 state budget to finance tax cuts in the most recent state budget, which Kasich signed earlier this month.*

The rainy-day fund, which is basically the state’s savings account, had only 89 cents in it in 2010 in the throes of the Great Recession. Following Tuesday’s deposit, the fund now holds nearly $1.5 billion.

A large rainy day fund will help the state deal with future economic challenges and add stability to its finances, Kasich administration officials said.

“I don’t think the public really knows about this. I think it has been lost in whatever side issues. The public if they can find out about this will be thrilled,” Kasich said.

Kasich, who left without answering questions from reporters, also talked up the state budget’s income tax cuts, worth $2.6 billion over three years, saying they will help spur economic growth by making Ohio more business-friendly, and recent job growth.

FitzGerald, the executive of Cuyahoga County, has criticized the budget’s tax cuts, saying they are paid for by raising taxes that are disproportionately paid for by poor and middle class such as the sales tax.

But on Thursday, he focused his attention on the abortion-related language in the budget. Among other things, the budget puts Planned Parenthood at the back of the line for federal family planning funds, requires physicians administering abortions to first try to detect a fetal heartbeat and prevents public hospitals from entering into medical transfer agreements with abortion clinics, which could force them to close.

Since the new laws were passed as part of the state budget, they can’t be repealed through a referendum. But opponents could organize what’s called an initiated statute, a process that would allow them to write their own law. If opponents collected 116,000 valid signatures, legislators would have to act on the law — if they defeated it or did nothing, opponents could with more signatures send it to the November 2014 ballot.

“The initiative process is a way to force the debate that was denied before,” FitzGerald said.

FitzGerald said he’d like to undo the tax provisions in the budget, but that doing so would likely be too complicated.

But Republican State Rep. Nan Baker, of Westlake, said FitzGerald and other Democrats are keying in on abortion because they don’t want to talk about Ohio’s improving economy.

“They have nothing else to focus on. They know that our economy is better. They know that we have made steps over the last three or four years to create an environment that gets people back to work. So what are you going to do? You’re going to try to find something you’re going to latch on to,” Baker said.

*This sentence was revised online subsequent to publication to more accurately reflect that the surplus is a result of the 2011-2012 state budget.

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