- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich stood his ground Tuesday, facing down hecklers as he vowed to hold the line on taxes and press for concessions from state unions in his first State of the State address.

With protesters and counterprotesters demonstrating outside the Capitol in Columbus, Mr. Kasich elicited both cheers and boos as he told state lawmakers, “If you’ve seen a lot of change in these first seven weeks, you ain’t see nothin’ yet.”

Ohio and Wisconsin have been at the center of a nationwide clash between new Republican governors and public-employee unions over pensions, benefits and pay as states tackle yawning budget deficits.

Mr. Kasich in his hourlong address barely mentioned the hot-button issue of collective-bargaining reform — a topic that has caused an outcry from union members since Senate Bill 5 passed on March 2. The bill would permit union members to negotiate working conditions and hours, but would restrict pay increases to those based on merit only.

When the governor briefly referred to the topic of collective-bargaining rights, he was immediately drowned out by shouts from the back of the room.

“I appreciate the passion of people who don’t agree with us,” the governor said. “People who feel strongly, I respect them. But they also need to respect those who don’t always agree with them.”

This statement caused a roar of applause from the audience, and some people also stood up. The governor, however, did switch topics after that.

Vowing not to raise taxes, Mr. Kasich said state residents will get the income-tax cut they were expecting two years ago, which was frozen to balance the state’s last budget. His budget, to be released next week, is expected to include agency cuts and program consolidations. Ohio faces an unprecedented $8 billion budget shortfall.

Mr. Kasich was greeted with thunderous applause as he entered the ornate Ohio Statehouse, shaking hands and giving hugs as he made his way to the podium. Despite the intense partisan fights that have broken out in Ohio, Wisconsin and across the region, Mr. Kasich said he was determined to find broad support for his budget-balancing plans.

“If I have to pull the Democrats across the aisle personally, we’re going to do it,” he said wryly.

But, the former nine-term congressman added, “We cannot tax our way to prosperity. We will not be raising taxes in this state.”

In their response, minority Democrats said the governor had offered little that was new. State Sen. Capri Cafaro said that she had heard this same speech repeated on many other occasions by others. She said that the governor had only offered vague solutions and changes, and had not given any concrete examples.

“Honestly, I’m still waiting to see what those solutions and what these changes are, to benefit the middle class and the working people of the state of Ohio,” she said.

Democratic General Assembly leader Rep. Armond Budish said the minority was being excluded from the process and challenged Mr. Kasich’s contention that he was seeking broad input for his reform agenda.

“The people of Ohio are being locked out,” said Mr. Budish.

But state Senate President Tom Niehaus said Ohio residents will be better off as a result of the governor’s determination.

“Change is hard,” Mr. Niehaus said, as shouts from outside the chamber’s doors could be heard during a Republican news conference. “You only have to listen to the chants from outside to understand how difficult change is.”

• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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