COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The need to boost Ohio’s gas tax, efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, and programs to improve children’s lives are among topics that Gov. Mike DeWine was expected to address Tuesday in his first State of the State speech.
Since taking office, the Republican has made clear his priorities through a series of program announcements and cabinet director selections. Those include the creation of the Office of Child Welfare Transformation to lead the state’s child protection and foster care efforts, and the RecoveryOhio Advisory Council, to advise DeWine on mental illness and substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery support services.
As a result, the governor’s speech was expected to underscore those already-stated priorities rather than serve as a launch pad for new programs, as some governors have done in the past.
“I don’t think you’ll find any great surprises,” DeWine said last week.
Democrats hope to hear from DeWine about ways to boost the state’s economy and lower the unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, which is above the national average of 3.9 percent.
“There’s no doubt we need to start bringing more jobs back, but we also need to make sure those jobs are paying a living wage,” said Sen. Kenny Yuko of suburban Cleveland, the top Senate Democrat.
In one regard, DeWine’s speech should sound and look familiar. Unlike his predecessor, fellow Republican Gov. John Kasich, DeWine is holding his address in the Ohio House chamber and will speak from prepared remarks.
Kasich made state history by taking seven of his eight annual speeches on the road, delivering them in Lima, Steubenville, and Wilmington, among other cities. Kasich often spoke off the cuff.
DeWine is a former state attorney general, U.S. senator, lieutenant governor, congressman and state lawmaker. A look at what he is expected to highlight Tuesday:
— Roads: The governor is recommending an 18-cent increase in the gas tax to maintain and improve roads and highways. DeWine’s transportation director has said contracts for road maintenance that totaled $2.4 billion in 2014 may drop to $1.5 billion in 2020, and a $1 billion gap remains in the department budget. Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof is skeptical of the proposal, while House Speaker Larry Householder has acknowledged the need.
— Children: DeWine made one of his first directives a public awareness campaign to boost interest in foster care and adoption. That announcement came at a time when nearly 16,000 children are in the custody of Ohio county children services agencies. At his inauguration he spoke of the need “to intervene early in the lives of at-risk kids.”
— Opioids: DeWine is the third consecutive Ohio governor confronting a deadly addictions epidemic that shows limited signs of abating. He wants his “RecoveryOhio” plan to provide prevention programs in communities and schools, improve access to treatment, and help underserved populations of kids, older adults and veterans. Ohio saw a record 4,854 unintentional fatal overdoses in 2017.
— Lake Erie: DeWine said last month that he plans to increase state funding in his upcoming budget proposal to fight algae growth in Lake Erie. In his January inauguration speech, he emphasized the need “to preserve and protect our magnificent Lake Erie.”