John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, makes his presidential announcement today. He becomes the 16th person to join the Republican field and the 8th current or former governor.
Kasich is a fiscal policy expert. He has made a federal Balanced Budget Amendment a key talking point in his speeches and appearances so far, and was known for being a budget cutter while in Congress. His record in Ohio tells a very different story. Spending has risen rapidly during Kasich’s tenure in Columbus.
Data from the National Association of State Budget Officers illustrates the rapid growth general fund spending. From fiscal year 2012, Kasich’s first full fiscal year, to fiscal year 2015, general fund spending increased in Ohio by 18 percent. Nationally, state general fund spending increased by 12 percent during that period. Kasich’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 increased spending further. It included a year-over-year increase of 11 percent. The average governor proposed a spending increase of 3 percent from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2016.
Much of the increase is due to Kasich’s support of Medicaid expansion. In 2013 the Ohio House of Representatives opposed Medicaid expansion. They inserted a provision in the state budget forbidding the Kasich administration from expansion without their approval. Kasich stripped the provision from the budget and then proceeded to expand the program without their approval.
Just 18 months after the expansion took effect, the costs have exploded. According to a recent report from the state’s Legislative Service Commission, costs are 63 percent, or $1.4 billion, over budget. The report says the overage is because of “higher than expected caseloads and per person costs.” The expansion population was 600,000 in June of 2015, compared to estimates of 366,000. Medicaid expenditures are 9.5 percent higher in fiscal year 2015 than they were in fiscal year 2014.
Much of this spending increase underlies Kasich’s grades on Cato’s Governors Report Card. Kasich received a respectable “B” in 2012, but his score plummeted to a “D” in 2014 as the spending increases started. He scored the worst of any governor—Republican or Democrat—on spending in the 2014 report card. And Kasich tied for the worst grade overall of any Republican governor.
Kasich has made some progress on tax reform. The personal income tax was cut in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Kasich supported a plan to exclude a portion of small-business income from taxation in 2013 and to expand the provision in 2015. But Kasich has also supported several tax increases, such as increasing taxes on shale gas and oil, the state’s gross receipts tax, and cigarettes.
Overall, Kasich’s legacy in Columbus is disappointing. He has presided over large spending increases. His proposed fiscal year 2016 spending increase was three times larger than the national average among the states. While he has made some meaningful tax reforms, his support for bigger government in numerous areas is troubling.