By Kevin Kelley
Much of the talk about state politics this year has focused on the collective bargaining law for public employees, which was passed by the state legislature along partisan lines in March and repealed by voters in November. But Nan Baker, the Westshore’s representative in the Ohio House, says much more has been happening at the statehouse.
“There’s a lot of things going on that we’re doing that no one knows about,” Baker said.
She says the 129th Ohio General Assembly has passed or is working on numerous bills to encourage job growth and investment in Ohio. The Westlake Republican, who is seeking her third term in Columbus next year, hopes Westshore voters become aware of those efforts.
As was the case in her two previous runs for the statehouse seat, Baker is not facing a challenger in the Republican primary. Todd LeVeck and Andrew Meyer are seeking the Democratic Party nomination for the District 16 seat.
Baker defeated incumbent Democrat Jennifer Brady in November 2008, winning the seat by a 51 to 49 percent margin. When Brady sought to regain her seat two years later, Baker again defeated her, by a 60- to 40-percent margin.
Baker’s campaign website features a list of 14 actions the Republican-controlled assembly has taken to promote job growth and save tax dollars.
• Invest Ohio, a program that gives a 10-percent personal income tax credit to investors who acquire an ownership interest in a small business. The company is required to reinvest that cash infusion within six months. The investor must retain his or her ownership interest for a two-year period before the tax credit may be claimed. The goal, Baker said, is to generate at least $1 billion in new private investment by 2013 and create 30,000 new jobs. This program will help small businesses access much-needed capital, Baker said.
• JobsOhio, a private economic development corporation that is replacing the Department of Development’s role of job recruitment and retention. Baker calls it an exciting partnership between the state government and business leaders. She says it’s important for business people to provide advice on how to move the state forward. According to the Hamilton Journal News, Gov. John Kasich said Ohio has added approximately 14,500 new jobs and retained approximately 28,500 more in the past eight to nine months with the help of state incentives through JobsOhio.
• The Refundable Job Retention Credit, for companies with at least 1,000 employees that agree to make $25 million in capital improvements over three consecutive years. Baker said this new law was instrumental in keeping American Greetings, which is moving to Westlake.
• Small Business Regulatory Reform, under which rule-making agencies are required to analyze how new rules will affect businesses. Businesses that believe they are unduly burdened by regulations may appeal to the newly created Common Sense Initiative Office.
“We have done things they will talk about 10, 20, 30 years from now,” Baker said.
The answer to all of Ohio’s problems is job growth, Baker said. The state needs a strong private sector to pay for the public services that government provides, she added.
Baker noted the state has gone from being ranked seventh-highest overall in taxation to 16th.
She noted the legislature passed a balanced budget while also maintaining the final year of a promised 4-percent rollback of the personal income tax.
Baker acknowledged the phaseout of the estate tax will hurt many municipalities. But Baker, who voted in favor of the phaseout, said there is a better way of managing budgets than relying on windfalls from the deaths of wealthy residents. A $45 million innovation fund has been established in the budget that will aid cities that can demonstrate evidence of collaboration in municipal operations, she noted. This may help offset some burdens the phaseout will impose on cities, Baker said.
“I think our (Westshore) cities are going to benefit from it because our mayors are very forward-thinking,” Baker told West Life.
Baker said a big driver of economic growth in Ohio will be oil and gas production on state-owned lands. Legislation passed in September created the Oil and Gas Leasing Commission to oversee the leasing of state-owned land for the exploration and production of oil and natural gas resources.
“This is really huge for Ohio,” Baker told West Life. She said drilling and related activities will create up to 200,000 new jobs for Ohioans by 2015, with the economic activity continuing for around 25 years.
A recently released study by a team of Ohio State University economists said shale gas production will only produce 20,000 jobs in the next four years. Baker said she will look at that new study, but added that the 200,000 figure has been consistently given by industry experts.
Much of the drilling in what’s known as the the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions, mostly in eastern and southeastern Ohio, involves hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Critics of the controversial technique say chemicals used in the process can contaminate streams and groundwater. Baker is satisfied adequate safeguards are in place.
“We are assured this can be done correctly,” she said.
Regarding the controversial collective bargaining bill, Baker doesn’t regret supporting it, but says that, in hindsight, it may have been a better political strategy to have tried to pass it in several parts.
“I just think it was too much for everyone to understand it,” the former Westlake city councilwoman said.
Polls showed Ohioans backed some parts of the bill, she said, such as the requirement that public employees pay a larger percentage of their health care costs and pensions.
The process raised awareness, Baker said, of the need for reform. The Republican attitude in Columbus now, she said, is to give Ohio mayors, superintendents and union leaders the chance to adopt contracts that address some of the concerns that originally prompted the law.
“Let’s give them the opportunity to make those reforms that we can come to with common-ground consensus,” she said.