Wait-and-see reactions to Kasich speech around area

Local residents and officials are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to plans proposed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich during Tuesday night’s State of the State address.

Among other things, Kasich talked about his “Achievement Everywhere” plan, which would add $1.2 billion to school funding, but under the plan more than half of Ohio’s schools would receive no addition funding over the next two years.

Under the new plan, which Kasich initially unveiled the two weeks ago, only two Washington County school districts -Belpre and Marietta – would receive an increase in funding.

“I’m not very happy about it at all. His first words were that he was going to help all of the school districts, but if I read it right, Fort Frye is going to lose $750 per student,” said Fort Frye Board of Education member David White.

The governor’s proposal guarantees that no district will receive less state funding over the next two years than they have this year.

However, the base funding amount under the new plan works out to $5,000 per student compared to $5,732 under the previous formula.

“I don’t know how school districts are going to survive,” said White.

But the plan has not yet been accepted as law, pointed out Marietta City Schools Superintendent Harry Fleming.

“Until it’s passed into law, you can’t count on anything in the plan,” he said.

While the plan, which would give a 12 percent funding increase for Marietta City Schools, would be beneficial to Fleming’s district, he is still reticent to say he supports it, he said..

“I think there is a lot of inequity. He purported to help poor districts, and I don’t think he’s doing that,” said Fleming.

Kasich also reiterated plans Tuesday night to revamp sales and income taxes in the state. The proposal would cut Ohioans’ income taxes by 20 percent, and would cut taxes on small businesses even more.

But decreases in taxes could mean cuts for essential services, said David Brightbill, executive director of Washington-Morgan Community Action, a private nonprofit social service organization which assists with job training and placement and implements Early Head Start programs.

“I guess part of my problem with the whole approach right now is that Ohio, from the standpoint of education, mental health and infrastructure, there is so much work that needs to be done,” said Brightbill.

Kasich argues that the tax cuts will create jobs.

While Brightbill unemployment has been down statewide and in Washington County, the quality of jobs needs to be considered, Brightbill said.

“The other thing to look at is the average wage, and that has not improved significantly. What has basically happened is higher paying jobs have been replaced with lower paying jobs,” he said.

Brightbill said he did support Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid.

“Ohio has lots and lots of people that aren’t covered that need to be covered,” he said.

Kasich’s plan would encourage Ohio to use federal money offered under the Affordable Care Act to cover an additional 275,000 Ohioans under Medicaid.

Kasich’s revamped tax program would also drop Ohio’s sales tax rate by half a percentage point, but expand the services that are subject to taxation.

The new taxes would affect investment counseling, accounting, hair styling, legal, advertising, architectural/engineering services and bowling alley fees, among other things.

Accountant Al Crumrine, of Marietta, said he wants to see the math on all the taxation changes before he makes any final judgment calls. The change will not likely make a huge difference, he said.

on how many people seek accounting services, he said.

“Services like legal and accounting, people need those services, and they are going to get those services regardless,” said Crumrine.

Still, his main concern is how the changes will affect the average person, he said.

“I look at it from the standpoint of what is it going to cost the little guy,” said Crumrine.

Spreading out the amount of sales tax coming into the state will not necessarily even out the cuts in income tax, said Brightbill.

“Sales tax tends to be regressive. If our income is higher, we still spend the same amount on sales tax,” he said.

An overall lower state tax revenue could negatively impact local schools, worried Crumrine.

“I hate to see taxes cut too much because it affects our ability to fund our schools,” he said Crumrine, noting that most local schools are getting no more money under the new school funding plan.

Marietta resident Connie Davis is a hair stylist at Sheila’s Hair Shoppe & Tanning in Marietta.

“I hate to see that hair styling and all those services being taxed,” she said..

But she was hesitant to say the change would impact business.

“They’re going to do what they’re going to do. I hate to see it come to that, but we’ll see what happens,” she said.

Kasich also proposed an increase to the severance tax on oil and gas wells in the state. The plan would purportedly generate an additional $300 million by 2016.

But the plan could discourage further exploration by oil and gas companies that are spending big bucks in Ohio, said Jim Denny, president and chief operating officer for Triad Hunter in Marietta.

“The oil and gas industry is the biggest creator of jobs and opportunities in the state right now. It just seems odd that you would pick on the goose that lays the golden egg,” said Denny.

When oil and gas companies brought high paying jobs to Ohio, the rules were already in place, and the fact that Kasich wants to change them now makes him wary of more changes down the road, he said.

For example, changes to the laws regarding permitting could be far more detrimental in the long run than the proposed severance tax increase, he said.

“What will come next? If you change the rules once, what’s going to stop them from changing them again?” asked Denny.