Kasich Takes to Airwaves to Pitch Ohio Budget That May Sell State Prisons

Live from the Capitol Theatre in downtown Columbus: It’s Ohio Governor John Kasich’s budget show.

Unlike previous governors who held press conferences about their plans, Kasich is spending about $5,000 to rent the 900- seat room for an “Ohio Town-Hall Meeting” tonight and broadcasting on satellite television and the Web, Kasich’s office said.

Kasich, who has promised not to raise taxes to fill a projected $8 billion shortfall compared with the current $50.5 billion budget, has said he will call for spending reductions and proposals including possibly selling prisons as part of “one of the most reform-oriented budgets Ohio’s ever seen.”

U.S. governors are facing deficits that may reach $125 billion in the coming fiscal year, and many are making painful cuts. Kasich is taking his case straight to his constituents.

Asked in an interview last week why he decided to televise the presentation from a theater, Kasich replied, “I thought it was a cool idea. We want to explain it all to people.”

Kasich, 58, who took office in January, said in his State of the State speech last week that his plans might test citizens.

“I’m asking you all to keep an open mind about the possibilities of reform because you can’t keep doing the same thing in this state and avoiding the decisions that need to be made,” he said.

Photographer: David Maxwell/Bloomberg

Ohio Governor John Kasich. Close

Ohio Governor John Kasich.

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Photographer: David Maxwell/Bloomberg

Ohio Governor John Kasich.

‘Something Special’

Broadcasting the event lets Kasich soften the blow, Catherine L. Albers, a theater professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s going to be a TV show,” said Albers, who has appeared in films including “The Jesse Owens Story” and does radio and television voice-overs. “You tell people it’s going to be on television, and all of sudden it’s something special.”

Kasich is presenting his budget a day after a poll showed that 47 percent of Ohio adults disapprove of his performance, 40 percent approve and 13 percent neither approve nor disapprove.

The Ohio Poll, sponsored by the University of Cincinnati and conducted March 1-9, found that 53 percent would like to see the budget balanced through tax increases and spending reductions combined. Thirty-five percent wanted reductions in programs and services, 6 percent wanted tax increases and 6 percent didn’t know. The poll of 908 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

Lights Out

Kasich is to appear at 6 p.m. with members of his cabinet and invited guests after an earlier briefing for reporters. The show will be broadcast by television stations, C-SPAN and at www.OhioChannel.org, Kasich’s office said.

The governor will take questions from the audience and via Twitter and Facebook “for as long as I can until they start to turn out the lights on me,” he said in the statement.

Although Kasich has declined to provide specifics until he releases his budget, which the legislature has until June 30 to approve, he has said it will contain cuts and projected savings from “restructuring.”

That could include turning over the lottery and prison operations to companies, Kasich said in an interview last month.

Hot Ohio

“Ohio is quickly working its way up to being the state of most interest of those following public-private partnerships,” said D.J. Gribbin, a managing director in Washington for Macquarie Capital (USA) Inc. Macquarie, a division of Australia’s biggest investment bank, holds leases on four U.S. toll roads, including the Chicago Skyway and Indiana Toll Road.

Kasich will propose leasing the 241-mile Ohio Turnpike and selling five prisons, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer reported yesterday, citing a person familiar with the plan whom the newspaper did not identify. Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols declined to confirm that report.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents about 10,000 prison employees, opposes privately operated prisons, said Tim Roberts, a union officer and guard at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. He cited concerns about security and state control over the property.

“You might save money in the short run, but who is going to pay the price?” Roberts asked in a telephone interview.

During his address last week, Kasich advocated changing prison sentencing to save money by reducing the 47 percent of prisoners locked up less than a year.

Folding It In

State Senator Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican and sponsor of a bill to change sentencing, said in a telephone interview the governor’s office told him that his bill or portions of it would be incorporated into the budget.

The bill as introduced would save about $24.9 million a year through fiscal 2015, according to an analysis by the Ohio Legislative Services Commission.

School districts expect reductions of as much as 20 percent from the current budget, said Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association. Officials are anxious to hear the reasons as well as the amounts, Asbury said in a telephone interview.

“I’ve asked for a ticket,” Asbury said of Kasich’s event. “I hope I get one.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Niquette in New York at mniquette@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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