COLUMBUS, Ohio — Amid pro-labor protests Tuesday, Gov. John Kasich said in his first State of the State address that big changes are ahead for Ohio and that lawmakers should not be scared off by the conflict that will arise from shaking things up.
"If you've seen a lot of change in these first seven weeks, you ain't seen nothing yet," Kasich said, as the crowd erupted, some in cheer, others in boos.
Touting the advantages of the state's many cities, the new Republican governor said he is willing to risk criticism in order to stop Ohio from hemorrhaging any more residents and jobs to other states. Seeing Ohio lose two congressional seats because of population loss was a punishing blow, the former congressman said.
"It's like taking a shotgun and blowing a piece of your body out," he said.
Kasich sought to make allies in both political parties during the address, even as protesters opposed to a bill restricting collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public sector workers shouted both inside and outside the Ohio House chamber.
The speech, delivered from notes and without a teleprompter, was light on details – which Kasich said will be released next Tuesday when he unveils his proposed state spending blueprint for the next two years.
"We'll have a growth agenda," Kasich promised. "It was only John Kennedy who said, `A rising tide lifts all boats.' And that's as true today as it was then."
Kasich said Ohio 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 will also include agency cuts and program consolidations, he said, though he provided few specifics. Ohio's two-year budget now stands at $50.5 billion and the state faces a historic $8 billion budget hole.
House Democratic Leader Armond Budish, of Beachwood, was flanked by fellow Democratic lawmakers, teachers, nurses and firefighters as he delivered his reaction to Kasich's speech to a packed Statehouse Atrium. He said cutting the income tax would disproportionately benefit high-income Ohio residents.
"The wealthiest people in Ohio are not being asked to sacrifice, you are," he told a cheering crowd.
Kasich addressed the opposition head-on, saying everyone must work together to solve Ohio's problems.
"We are not Republicans, we are not Democrats," he said. "We are Ohioans and together we will climb the mountain and make Ohio great."
Kasich called for creativity and innovation to be employed throughout the state – and by both parties – to restore Ohio's well-being.
"I'm asking you all to keep an open mind about reform, because we can't keep doing the same thing in this state and avoiding the decisions that need to be made – that have been put off for political reasons, frankly," he said.
The governor expressed support for policies that keep more seniors in their homes, give parents more education options, keep as many citizens as is practical out of prison and offer early government intervention in areas where it's cost effective. Kasich said providing prenatal care for low-income pregnant mothers could save Ohio money in the long run. Care for a very low birthweight infant costs $70,000 on average, compared with $2,000 for a healthy baby, said Greg Moody, director of the Governor's Office of Health Transformation.
Supporters and critics alike said the speech left them eager for more details of what the governor has planned.
Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro said she heard Kasich deliver the same speech practically word for word at a recent Youngstown-Warren Chamber of Commerce event.
"All I heard today were platitudes. All I heard today were concepts. All I heard today were ideas," she said. "Talking about action, talking about change – I didn't hear one concrete thing helping us go forward in Ohio."
During his speech, Kasich responded to shouts of protests by saying he respects those who feel strongly against collective bargaining changes. "You don't respect us!" yelled a spectator.
House Speaker Bill Batchelder, a Medina Republican, said he couldn't recall a time when there was shouting outside during a State of the State address.
"We have to look beyond the very short term," he said. "We have to accommodate the challenges that we face and respond to those challenges in a constructive way. And I think that the governor gave us a very clear view of that today."
An estimated 3,200 people were at the Statehouse on Tuesday – most of them to protest Senate Bill 5, which restricts collective bargaining for 350,000 police, firefighters, teachers and other public sector workers.
Hundreds streamed into the Statehouse and packed the Statehouse Rotunda during Kasich's speech, yelling chants of "Kill the bill" and "Shame on you" that echoed down the hallways and drowned out the broadcast of the governor's remarks.
Greg Waddell, a 7th-grade language arts teacher in Columbus, said he didn't hear anything in Kasich's address to ease his concerns about collective bargaining changes.
"Seems like everything was, `Where do we cut at?'" said Waddell, 36. He said he hoped Kasich would offer concrete ideas about how he'd change Ohio but thought the governor fell short.
Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that mobilizes volunteer activists to fight for less government and lower taxes, said the speech made clear that Kasich understands he can't tax his way out of these problems.
"I think it's going to go down very well with the activists in the state," Brandon said.
Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Ann Sanner and Kantele Franko contributed to this report.