MEDINA -- Gov. John Kasich vowed to further cut income tax rates, create job-training and career-development opportunities to youngsters at risk of dropping out of school and offer college credits for veterans for training they received during their service.
In his fourth State of the State address, before an audience of lawmakers and invited guests in Medina, the governor also offered a message of hope for better things to come.
"The clouds are beginning to move apart," Kasich said near the start of his hour-plus speech. "The sun is beginning to break through and to shine its bright light on that summit. ... We are not hopeless. We are not wandering. We have direction."
He added later, "I hope you'll stay with me on the path as we go higher. … The state of the state is stronger, more hopeful, more optimistic, more exciting and more confident here in the state of Ohio."
Monday night's address marked the third time Kasich took his annual address to a joint session of the state legislature on the road.
He picked Medina this year, the hometown of Republican Speaker Bill Batchelder, who will cap more than four decades of service when his final term ends this year.
Among other accolades, Kasich called Batchelder "the most consistent and hardworking supporter" of the Ohio Highway Patrol and announced the Medina post would be renamed in Batchelder's honor.
Kasich also presented "Courage Awards," to Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, three Cleveland women who were kidnapped and held captive for a decade before their rescue last year.
Kasich presented each with a medal and had a group hug with the trio.
State of the State
Kasich offered a familiar narrative of the state's progress under his administration -- going from an $8 billion hole in the budget, 350,000-some lost private sector jobs and 89 cents in the rainy day fund to $1.5 billion in the state's rainy day fund, 170,000-plus new private sector jobs, tax cuts and business-friendly policies.
The governor touted billions of dollars in funding for road, bridge and infrastructure projects, his expansion of Medicaid eligibility to provide health care to more needy residents and increased efforts to crack down on human trafficking.
Kasich also praised JobsOhio, the private nonprofit that is heading the state's economic development efforts and the focus of criticism for its behind-closed-doors workings.
"The nation's business leaders are realizing that our new approach to economic development is something that sets us apart," he said.
The governor offered a glimpse of his coming mid-biennium review, the large package of policy proposals that lawmakers are expected to tackle in coming weeks and months.
He voiced a continuing commitment to keep the state's "fiscal house in order," and to cut Ohio's tax rates to less than 5 percent, the latter accomplished through an increase in taxes on oil and gas produced via horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
Kasich said $12 billion in income has left the state in the past two decades, with residents heading to states with lower income tax rates.
"We've got to keep cutting taxes," he said.
The governor also said the state must increase its focus on decreasing the number of students who drop out of school by offering alternative paths to high school diplomas -- taking kids out of classrooms and into job training and helping them to apply textbook lessons to real-life situations.
Kasich also outlined an initiative to promote mentoring programs connecting schools and their communities, earmarking $10 million in casino fees for that purpose.
And he announced the coming launch of "online career road maps" that will help students understand the education and related costs required to pursue different careers.
"Our kids need direction," Kasich said. "They need to understand where they are going."
Additionally, the governor urged lawmakers to sign off on a program that will provide free college credits for veterans to account for training they received during their years in the service.
"Whether it's engineering, heavy equipment, construction, auto and truck repair... advanced technology... the training has prepared veterans for many of Ohio's most in demand jobs," he said, adding, "If you can drive a truck from Kabul to Kandahar in Afghanistan, don't you think you should be able to drive a truck from Columbus to Cleveland?"