A new meter to track a new governor's promises

Gov. John Kasich has said success should be judged by results.
Gov. John Kasich has said success should be judged by results.

When the loquacious John Kasich is sworn in Jan. 10 as Ohio’s 69th governor, he will bring with him a hefty list of campaign promises he offered up with his trademark big talk.

Kasich, a Republican former congressman, often flashes an iPad that displays his duties for the day. He’ll need it to recall the 21 meaty pledges he has made to Ohioans, promising everything from phasing out the state’s income tax to dismantling the collective-bargaining law.

PolitiFact Ohio introduces the Kasich-O-Meter, which will track and analyze the new governor’s ability to back up his bold talk over the next four years. The hard-charging Kasich, who in November defeated Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland, figures to be up for the challenge.

"Let’s think of the campaign as one part of a movement," he said in a webcast he hosted on Aug. 26, 2009, two months after announcing he would run for governor. "If you win the campaign and you fail to carry out what you want to do, you failed."

That’s kind of how PolitiFact Ohio views it, too.

"It sounds to me like he is saying, ‘Hold me accountable,’ " said PolitiFact national editor Bill Adair. "And PolitiFact Ohio will do that."

Kasich isn’t taking his new job lightly and isn’t making wimpy promises. He wants to eliminate an entire state agency, the Department of Development, and replace it with a new,  quasi-private job-creation outfit partly funded by taxpayer dollars.

He also said he will restore the final year of a five-year, 21 percent income tax cut — putting the state on the hook for about $900 million — even though the state faces an $8 billion operating budget deficit.

Kasich also wants to scrap a K-12 school funding formula championed by his predecessor but has not said how he plans to replace it.

Other pledges include: revamping prevailing-wage rules, killing Ohio’s estate tax, opposing any form of a tax increase and streamlining state business regulatory rules.

Kasich on Thursday said that he is willing to take risks even if it means making mistakes and that he is hiring a Cabinet and senior staff eager to help him meet these promises.

"We have put off major decision making for so long that the ability to tackle big issues gets people pumped up, and it’s my style to give them the authority to do it," Kasich said.

"And, frankly, when you do that, mistakes will be made," he said. "And then I have to be held accountable, which I am prepared to be, for mistakes that get made. But we can’t let the fear of a mistake get in the way of the change."

It is a full and dicey menu of change to digest, but the Republican leader will have a very friendly GOP-controlled legislature to help him get his agenda across. He just might need it.

"Only time will tell if Gov. Kasich can keep these promises. There are lots of impediments to policy change that will have to be overcome," said University of Akron political-science professor John Green.

Green said aggressively biting off so much from the start means there is likely to be no middle ground for Kasich — either he will stand firmly or sink quickly.

"The magnitude of the changes he is proposing may help him have more success than he might otherwise had  have obtained," Green said. "But such promises could also backfire if less change occurs."

The new House Speaker is William G. Batchelder, a Republican from Medina. The Senate President is Tom Niehaus, a Republican from New Richmond near Cincinnati. Batchelder was a clear cheerleader for Kasich during the campaign, but gauging Niehaus’ support for Kasich’s full agenda is less predictable.

Batchelder said House Republicans are preparing to introduce nearly 150 bills and noted several are aimed directly at helping Kasich fulfill his promises.

 "I think, by and large, anything that he has discussed publicly we would be compatible with and have prepared legislation in a lot of those areas," Batchelder said Thursday.

He said a complicated bill backing Kasich’s Jobs Ohio plan — which calls for eliminating the Department of Development for the quasi-private jobs board — is already in the works.

Batchelder has also singled out his goal of killing the state’s estate tax and addressing the collective-bargaining law, in line with two other promises from Kasich.

The collective-bargaining pledge has already made Kasich an enemy of some of the state’s most influential voting groups — union workers, police officers and teachers.

Kasich hinted during the campaign that he is no fan of collective bargaining, which can allow an outside mediator to resolve salary and benefit disputes. He also doesn’t like Ohio’s prevailing-wage rules, which require union-scale wages for public construction projects.

On Dec. 13, he expounded on his position, saying that any public employee who goes on strike over a labor dispute "should be fired," and he declared the state’s collective-bargaining law tantamount to forcing a tax increase on Ohioans "with them having no say." He also claimed that prevailing-wage rules for university dormitory projects were driving up tuition.

"These are teachers and police officers and firefighters and construction workers" he is talking about, said Tim Burga, chief of staff for the Ohio AFL-CIO. "I’m sure they are trying to figure out why this administration and this General Assembly might be after them."

Burga said he fears Kasich will try to balance the state’s budget by raiding public workers’ pension plans and cutting into their negotiated employee benefits.

"It would be very detrimental to Ohio, not only to the workforce, but our overall economy," Burga said. "What we are talking about is balancing an $8 billion shortfall on the backs of middle-class and working families who put money back into this economy."

PolitiFact.com carries the Obameter, which tracks President Barack Obama’s campaign promises, and has launched a new meter that tracks promises congressional Republican leaders made in their Pledge to America. Three of PolitiFact's state sites — Florida, Rhode Island and Wisconsin — have launched meters tracking promises made by their new governors. And PolitiFact Texas and PolitiFact Virginia plan to launch their meters with their gubernatorial inaugurations.

"In the same way that we are tracking the campaign promises of President Obama and the Republicans that took over the House in Congress, the process works just as well with tracking the campaign promises of governors," Adair said.

He suspects the governor meters not only will reveal whether pledges are being kept but also can offer a snapshot of political philosophies. For example, the new governor in Rhode Island made a slew of promises pertaining to gay rights while the governor in Florida said he will run his state as if it were a business, not a government.

"So collectively," Adair said, "we learn more about the policies of the states and of the governors."