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Ohio lawmakers move to block JobsOhio from state audit

Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives voted Wednesday to shield nearly all of JobsOhio’s financial records from review by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost.

Under the bill, Yost would not be allowed to review the majority of the state’s private economic development arm’s funding — an estimated $100 million annually or more — generated from profits on sales from the state’s liquor monopoly.

Yost, a Republican, would be consulted in selecting a private firm that would audit JobsOhio each year.

The bill passed the House, 62-35.

Language limiting Yost’s auditing authority was inserted Wednesday morning as an amendment to an otherwise uncontroversial bill meant to reduce the cost of state audits for local governments. The amended bill will now go back to the Ohio Senate, which unanimously approved the measure withoud the JobsOhio amendment last week.

Gov. John Kasich, also a Republican, had pushed for the change since earlier in the year, when he and Yost in an intraparty squabble butted heads about the state auditor’s ability to review JobsOhio’s records.

JobsOhio is a private nonprofit Kasich and the state legislature created in 2011 to replace the government agency that had promoted economic development in the state.

Yost eventually issued a subpoena, with which JobsOhio officials reluctantly complied. JobsOhio returned $8.4 million in state funds it received to help it gets operations off the ground.

Spokespeople for Kasich and JobsOhio issued similar statements following Wednesday’s vote, saying the amendment would bring needed clarity to concerns raised by private economic development groups.

“It not only helps JobsOhio know how to move forward but it’s also critically important for the job creators who use economic development incentives to grow and expand in Ohio,” said JobsOhio spokeswoman Laura Jones.

“The additional accountability for JobsOhio is welcome also and provides additional assurances as it continues its important work to help create jobs so Ohio can keep getting back on track,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.

Yost did not return a message seeking comment. A spokeswoman said Yost first saw the amendment Wednesday morning, and would need to review it before weighing in.

However, Yost addressed a rumored amendment in a March letter to legislators in which he argued he and future state auditors should be able to audit JobsOhio, which is run by a board of Kasich appointees and funded through state liquor proceeds.

“While there have been no indications of misdealing, the potential for self-dealing or other mischief exists sometime in the future. This office’s audit will help protect against the real possibility of human failings,” Yost said in the letter.

Democrats blasted Wednesday’s JobsOhio amendment, saying Republicans railroaded it through without public input from Yost, and unsuccessfully pushed to revert the bill back to its original form. State Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, said the JobsOhio amendment reduced the public’s ability to evaluate if JobsOhio is working effectively.

Last week, Lundy and other House Democrats introduced a bill that would make JobsOhio subject to state audits, as well as state ethics and public records laws.

“If you have nothing to hide, why are you afraid of the public’s right to know how public dollars are being spent by JobsOhio?” Lundy said.

State Rep. Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, who introduced the JobsOhio amendment, said the change would help preserve transparency while clarifying that JobsOhio and other private companies that receive public money aren’t as a result totally open to government auditors.

“This amendment reconfirms the Ohio legislature’s intent that JobsOhio be private and transparent,” Maag said.

Chambers of commerce in Cleveland and Dayton supported the JobsOhio amendment.

“(The amendment) makes sure the state doesn’t overstep its boundaries and start auditing private funds of private companies, because that’s not their role,” said Chris Kershner, a lobbyist for the Dayton chamber.

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