In the past week, Republicans have rushed to protect JobsOhio from a full public audit, following months of controversy surrounding Republican State Auditor Dave Yost’s efforts to bring some accountability to the publicly funded private nonprofit entity. For Democrats, the cover-up has proven a moment of vindication — a signal that Republicans are hiding something about their prized privatization scheme.
The excuse for it all: Republicans say they’re worried that opening JobsOhio to a full public audit would create a chilling effect among big businesses and other private groups supporting the agency. In other words, public accountability is very important to all politicians — at least until big businesses start complaining, and then it’s too intrusive.
But what’s perhaps most bizarre about the whole affair is that Republicans aren’t just shielding private donations and funds; they’re also shielding the agency’s liquor profits, which are obtained through a lease agreement with the state government.
To be clear, liquor profits are effectively public funds. If the state hadn’t handed control of the profits to JobsOhio, they would be going into public hands to directly fund public projects.
The profits are no measly amount, either. The latest estimates put them at $100 million a year.
For Democrats, the affair has repeatedly raised questions about what Republicans are trying to cover up with JobsOhio. If the agency is doing its job as well as Gov. John Kasich and other supporters claim, why are Republicans working so hard to prevent an audit? If Republicans are being honest, wouldn’t an audit just prove them right and show JobsOhio is the job-creating machine Kasich and others claim it is?
The broader concern is that JobsOhio might be doing as poorly as Ohio Republicans’ other privatization schemes.
In 2011, the state sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, a prison, to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private company. The deal — the first of its kind — has been poorly received by independent investigations. Multiple audits in the past year have found unsanitary conditions and staff incompetence at the Lake Erie facility. The state even docked $500,000 in payments to CCA because of deplorable conditions and inadequate staffing.
Of course, much of that information has surfaced because of public audits. It’s no wonder, then, that the Kasich administration and its Republican allies would be terrified of another round of public audits into yet another privatization scheme.
Unfortunately for Kasich, public funds demand public accountability. That’s why politicians always run on transparency and accountability: Barring necessary national security protections, the public expects to know what public funds and entities are doing.
Kasich has responded to the recent criticisms by saying JobsOhio will still be held accountable through a private audit. But if accountability was truly in the governor’s interest, why wouldn’t a public audit suffice? If there’s nothing to cover up, why shouldn’t an audit’s results be immediately available to the public through the state auditor?
Still, it seems unlikely the criticism will be taken to heart. After all, the Ohio legislature passed the legislation in just two days — all without giving the state auditor a say, despite his repeated requests. And the Kasich administration has signaled that the governor is going to sign the bill into law.
Because of cozy redistricting practices, Republican legislators likely won’t have to answer for this. But Kasich has to answer to the entire state in 2014. Hopefully the public won’t reward the governor for trying to blind the public from whatever JobsOhio is doing.
Other News and Stuff
• Local Democrats endorsed 10 candidates for City Council — more than the nine that can take office — and now they’re not endorsing any candidates for mayor. Instead, Cincinnati Democrats are letting candidates Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley duke it out for themselves, even though a Democratic majority has supported the streetcar project and parking semi-privatization plan that Cranley opposes.
• In a sign of changing political tides, Republican legislators explained a scheduled hearing for an anti-union bill -— misleadingly dubbed “right to work” — was brought on by Ohio House rules, not an intent to pass the bill. Just two years ago, Republicans were supporting Senate Bill 5, which would have taken away collective bargaining rights from public employees. Now, they’re stamping out rumors of anti-union efforts.