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2012 March 5 - 12:00 am

POLITICS and POLICY: Ohio Lawmakers Hear Workforce Message in Kasich Address

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) — Republican legislative leaders say they took away from Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State speech a renewed focus on bolstering training programs for Ohio workers, answering the governor’s call to find ways to better match residents’ skills with growing opportunities in energy, technology and science.

Lawmakers charged with passing bills that enact the governor’s policy priorities say that meant making sure community colleges were more closely aligned with businesses’ needs, so vacant jobs could be easily filled.

“We got to get people trained to get back to work,” said House Speaker William Batchelder, a Medina Republican.

During the speech in blue-collar Steubenville, Kasich announced a plan to boost broadband network speeds, introduced an award honoring courageous Ohioans and said shale drilling shouldn’t come at the expense of the environment in an annual State of the State address mostly devoid of big initiatives.

He spoke for nearly 90 minutes in a rambling, unfocused address in the auditorium of a high-performing elementary school, taking the speech outside Columbus for the first time in history.

Kasich said Ohio has come far from a year ago when it faced an estimated $8 billion budget hole and was ranked 48th nationally in job creation. The state now has money in its Rainy Day Fund once again and is the top job creator in the Midwest, he said.

“We just looked at the problems honestly,” said Kasich, a first-term Republican. “If you look at a problem and you see what it is, and you design a solution, it’s amazing how far you can go.”

The broadband initiative he announced will use new technology to open up the state’s technology infrastructure, increasing speeds from 10 gigabits per second to 100. The Ohio Board of Regents said the state will invest $8.1 million to connect areas around the state with the faster network connections.

Republicans said they didn’t think that the governor’s broadband proposal needed legislative approval, but they were reviewing whether they’d have to OK opening it up to business.

“That is the new infrastructure for today,” said Senate President Tom Niehaus, a New Richmond Republican. “While we need the highways and we need the bridges, you also have to have high speed internet and certainly OARnet is a tremendous asset that we want to make sure utilize for economic development in the state.”

Kasich cited the broadband upgrade, aerospace breakthroughs taking place at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, and collaborative research and development efforts in higher education as among avenues for economic growth.

“If we can train, educate, forecast, use our location, use our great people, use our resource, our assets, we’ll be No. 1 in America, we’ll be the most powerful state in America,” he said. “I have no doubt. We have the scale, the size, and everything that we need.”

But Democrats blasted the speech as long on rhetoric and short on details.

State Sen. Capri Cafaro of Hubbard called the address “more of a retrospective than a prospective.”

She said the speech was supposed to provide an overview of Kasich’s plans for the year, but “I did not get a lot of that.”

Kasich said he has asked Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee to lead an effort among universities to dovetail resources and come up with ways to increase the state’s college graduation rates.

After the speech, Gee said university leaders will meet with the governor to discuss their proposal.

“In the end, we’ve got to start thinking about Ohio and Ohio higher education as an ecological system, not as a series of speedboats out there racing around each other,” Gee said.

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