Governor didn’t address local issues, area reps say

From a local perspective, Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address on Monday evening was more notable for what he did not address than the issues he did tackle.

At the forefront for many in the area was how best to utilize the benefits of a state severance tax on the drilling of natural gas and oil wells.

During Kasich’s hourlong speech, the governor focused mainly on the topics of education and job growth, and failed to mention a tax issue weighing heavily on the minds of area voters.

“I was hoping (Kasich) would talk about the severance tax, and what’s going on with oil and gas,” state Rep. Sean O’Brien said. “That is a big area of concern for our area. It’s one of the biggest things happening in Ohio currently, and he did not mention where we were going.”

Like many officials, O’Brien said his concern is that Kasich’s plan for the severance tax does little to benefit the areas most affected by the drilling.

“We’re bearing the brunt of this and (Kasich) should be working more to develop this area,” O’Brien said. “To take our natural resource … we should be using that money for infrastructure and job creation.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here, and we can’t squander it.”

State Rep. Tom Letson echoed O’Brien’s concerns about the governor not addressing the issue of a tax benefiting the areas most impacted by the blossoming industry. Like O’Brien, Letson also expressed concern about Kasich’s plan to use the severance tax to cover the costs of his proposed plan to lower the state’s income tax rate to below five percent.

“The governor did not talk about (the severance tax), or sending money back to these local areas and that is something I wish he would have discussed,” Letson said. “The way he wants to spend (the severance tax) is to give people a tax break, but the tax break you or I would get would not even fill our gas tank once.

“(Kasich) is once again disproportionately giving (breaks) to his wealthy friends, instead of people in the middle or bottom of the economy.”

One of the key talking points of Kasich’s speech was a message of job growth in the state. The governor cited the creation of more than 170,000 private sector jobs in three years, praising the state’s balanced budget and $1.5 billion surplus as reasons he feels employers are beginning to invest in the state’s work force.

Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Canfield said that he felt the governor’s message of job growth was not constant with what he sees in the Mahoning Valley.

“I don’t want to totally slam (Kasich), but I believe as a senate majority leader in holding people’s feet to the fire,” Schiavoni said. “People locally aren’t seeing that improvement and seeing the economic growth, so I don’t think what he said was factual.

“I feel like we have a lot of work to do.”