Gov. John Kasich is under pressure from Republican Auditor Dave Yost and Democrats to open up JobsOhio’s books amid criticism that the private economic development agency Kasich set up lacks transparency and accountability to the public.
State Rep. John Patrick Carney, D-Columbus, called on Kasich to allow Yost to audit JobsOhio completely. He said if the governor doesn’t act, he would introduce legislation later this week that would.
On Wednesday, Yost issued a subpoena seeking financial records from JobsOhio after talks broke down between him and JobsOhio following months of negotiations.
The disagreement between Yost and Kasich revolves around to what degree state auditors should be able to scrutinize JobsOhio, which Republican legislators created in February 2012 to promote economic development in Ohio. JobsOhio, which replaced the public agency that was responsible for economic development, was set up to not be subject to Ohio’s transparency laws.
Yost thinks his auditors should be able to view all of JobsOhio’s books, while Kasich and JobsOhio officials think Yost’s authority should stop at the millions in public grants the Ohio Development Services Agency has awarded. The exact amount remains unclear — to the agency.
JobsOhio, which recently sold $1.5 billion in bonds unwritten by future proceeds from state-run liquor stores, received at least $5.7 million in state grants and $7 million in private donations, according to a fiscal year 2012 report JobsOhio submitted to the ODSA that was released last week.
Before that report, it was believed the only public funds JobsOhio received was $1 million that legislators approved in 2011. An ODSA spokesman wouldn’t say Thursday the exact or approximate amount in state grants his agency provided to JobsOhio.
Yost didn’t respond to a text message sent Thursday morning, but emailed a statement: “The Governor and I have the same goal: to make sure JobsOhio’s money is working for the people of Ohio — creating jobs and growing this economy for our families. It’s important to look at the total picture. The private bond proceeds trace directly back to the public money.”
But spokespeople for JobsOhio and Kasich said state auditors could only view records for the public grants, not the liquor bond proceeds or any private donations.
“The auditor has clear authority to audit public funds, and if there’s any confusion about that authority, then it needs to be clarified in law,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said in an email. “(The Ohio Development Services Agency) is requesting that the auditor audit the public funds it has provided to JobsOhio and the administration looks forward to working with him on that effort.”
Carney, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, and other Democrats have long contended that JobsOhio lacks transparency that could lead to pay-to play politics out of public view. Redfern and Carney also blasted Kasich over revelations that JobsOhio received more in public funds than previously thought.
“There’s still too many lingering questions with JobsOhio because the governor is shrouding it in secrecy,” said Redfern, who is also a state representative from Catawba Island.
A press conference held by Carney and Redfern on Thursday could be a preview for themes voters will see leading up to the 2014 election. Carney is rumored to be considering a run for state auditor. When asked, he said he wasn’t going to make any announcements about his future plans.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald, a likely Democratic challenger to Kasich, also spoke on the issue Thursday, issuing a statement to the media criticizing Kasich over JobsOhio.
“For nearly two years, the Governor has shrouded JobsOhio in secrecy, denying the public the right to examine its finances or challenge questionable expenses,” Fitzgerald said. “Now the Governor is on a dangerous collision course with the Republican State Auditor, seemingly directing staff to stonewall subpoenas and cover up JobsOhio’s financial records.”
Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, said the legislature would seek to clarify Yost’s authority, according to a spokesman.
“As the speaker said today, he has serious concerns over the auditor’s statements on the issue,” the spokesman, Mike Dittoe, said in an email.
Staff Writer Thomas Gnau contributed to this report