The financial storm clouds mounting overhead don’t have the Governor from Duck Run hiding his head, as Ted Strickland proposed programs to boost education and employment in his State of the State address Feb. 6.
"What could we do if we’re not afraid?" asked Strickland. "We all know we’re facing a serious economic downturn. The nation’s distress is felt here as well…We are challenged, but we will not back down."
Ohio confronts a budget shortfall of more than $700 million.
Reaffirming a constitutional duty to keep the budget balanced, the governor has directed state agencies to implement more than $733 million in cost savings, management strategies, program reductions, and efficiencies.
But we cannot simply put a patch on the budget, the governor said.
Strickland announced a $1.7 billion stimulus package aimed to create over 80,000 jobs to combat unemployment.
The "Building Ohio Jobs" plan will invest in infrastructure and industries, such as renewable energy and biomedicine, to create future opportunities to grow.
The plan will also invest in the Ohio Main Streets Renewal initiative, the Clean Ohio Fund, and the Ohio Public Works Commission to spur redevelopment and revitalize neighborhoods in cities and towns.
"Watching, wishing, and waiting will not create Ohio jobs," said Strickland. "But a bold and balanced investment in Ohio will."
Seniors to Sophomores
In connection with the availability of quality jobs, Strickland emphasized the necessity of a high-quality collegiate education.
Under Ohio’s ten-year plan for colleges and universities, Strickland promised to provide higher education within 30 miles of every Ohioan at an affordable rate.
In order to increase the number of college graduates and decrease the cost of education, Strickland also introduced the "Seniors to Sophomores" initiative.
Beginning in the fall, every academically qualified 12th-grader will be given the option to spend their senior year of high school on a University System of Ohio campus.
Participants will graduate from high school ready to start their sophomore year in college.
Tuition for that year will be free.
Strickland hopes to extend the standard for higher education into the primary and secondary realms as well.
"Some think of primary and secondary education in Ohio as a problem to be solved," said Strickland. "But our schools are not problems; they are solutions."
The governor proposed to guide efforts to create environments that foster creativity, innovation, and global competence by strengthening the commitment to public education, the base of higher education.
In order to kick-start progress, Strickland looks to create a new position of director of the Department of Education.
The office would be appointed by the governor, subject to the approval of the Senate, and would oversee all Department of Education efforts.
The existing structure, including the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent of Schools, would remain in place in advisory and additional roles as determined by the director.
A change in the organization of the department will instill, as in higher education, a direct line of responsibility and accountability in primary and secondary education.
Mortgage crisis confronted
The subject of accountability was also applied to sub-prime mortgage lenders.
Last year, Strickland created the Foreclosure Prevention Task Force to respond to the issue of foreclosures and asked lenders to agree to set practices such as notifying borrowers of any rate changes in advance and providing updates to the state on foreclosures.
The lenders did not cooperate.
"If they refuse to work with us to protect Ohio homeowners then we will take action," said Strickland.
The Director of Commerce will draft rules that the industry will be required to follow.
Strickland also showed a commitment, not only to homeowners, but to veterans looking to return home. The governor hopes to create an Ohio Department of Veterans Affairs to consolidate veterans programs into one agency.
"Our veterans deserve nothing less than our best efforts," said Strickland.
The department will help provide benefits to returning veterans.
"Ohio’s future does not belong to those who lack courage," concluded Strickland. "What can we do if we’re not afraid? We can succeed."