And the hopes for a Republican revival in 2016 rest upon... ?
The answer to that question, according to a featured article that Politico ran at the end of last week, just might be Ohio Governor John Kasich. Get to know that name, because the man certainly plans to run for president. (He did so briefly once before, in 2000, after having been House Budget Chair in the '90s.)
But Kasich's challenge isn't just that what he's offered is nothing new. The real problem is that the tax cuts by which he wants to be defined hardly qualify as tax cuts at all. In order to claim a singular sound bite -- "I lowered the income tax in my state" -- Kasich, as of yesterday, has raised both sales tax and property taxes.
The Politico piece -- penned by Mike Allen, Jim Vandehei, and Elizabeth Titus, and, at times, bordering on hagiography -- explained that Kasich has offered a "blueprint for success" and an "emerging playbook" for recapturing voter confidence. The authors, alas, project a distinctly Beltway perspective. The view here in Ohio -- and the true wrap on Kasich -- looks quite different.
Like any aspiring POTUS, Kasich is in search of a good story to tell, of a singular accomplishment to trumpet. In signing Ohio's $62 billion biennial budget yesterday, Kasich believes he's found his sound bite: a $2.7 billion tax cut, in the form of a 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut over the next three years, and a 50 percent cut on the first $250,000 earned by small businesses.
It evokes President Obama's quip to audiences during last year's presidential campaign that Republicans' idea vault sometimes seems limited to only two words: Tax cuts. "Need to lose weight?" the president joked. "Try a tax cut! Catch a cold? Take two tax cuts and call me in the morning."
But Kasich needed his sound bite. And unfortunately for Ohio's working families, someone's got to pay for it. Hence, Kasich's spike in sales and property taxes. That means that while the highest earners in the state will benefit handsomely from income tax cuts, middle-class and lower-income Ohioans will feel Kasich's sting every time they go to the grocery store and in every community where a needed school levy gets passed.
If Kasich's budgetary math sounds like robbing Peter to pay Paul, it gets worse.
As a city councilman in Cincinnati, my colleagues and I are ultimately the ones whom citizens count on for basic services such as public safety, garbage pick-up, and road repairs. Another aspect of Kasich's fiscal shell game has been an outright raid on local government funding.
From bigger cities like Cincinnati to smaller townships across the state, Kasich has stolen from local governments to the tune of $2.4 billion.
Since this is the very money that gets used to keep cops on the street, staff fire departments, and fix potholes, it should come as no surprise that thanks to Kasich's raid there were 136 school and local government levies on the ballot during Ohio's May primary.
Add one final whammy for the wannabe prez: Also included in yesterday's finalized state budget were three assaults on women's health care, including defunding Planned Parenthood, implementing a gag law for rape counselors who wish to discuss all health options, and a requirement for mandatory ultrasounds.
Kasich could have vetoed any of those provisions, but chose not to. While progressives lament the radical nature of this legislation, even conservatives are acknowledging that these items have no place in a budget bill. As the Cincinnati Enquirer, which endorsed Kasich in his last gubernatorial run, put it, the budget he signed yesterday was "laden with stuff that has nothing to do with the budget." So add to Kasich's self-proclaimed fiscal leadership a healthy dose of culture wars.
This now is the defining act from a man who would be president -- a budget that raises taxes on middle class and poor families; a budget that spends billions of dollars more than the budget of Kasich's Democratic predecessor; a budget that loots from local governments in order to fill state coffers.
Anointments from the Beltway are famously off-the-mark. As the GOP searches for a savior, they can go ahead and cross Kasich's name off the list. Take Ohio's word for it.