Many Democrats have been raising questions are being raised about public money that’s been put into the state’s newly developed private non profit development corporation, JobsOhio. And now Ohio’s Republican Auditor is raising questions too. He has issued a subpoena demanding that JobsOhio open up its books so he can conduct an audit. But as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, some state leaders say the Auditor lacks the authority to do that.
Ohio’s Republican Auditor, Dave Yost, has issued a subpoena to JobsOhio, asking the private development agency to hand over financial records through the end of last June. This action follows a private audit that shows JobsOhio received more than five million dollars in state grants that many lawmakers say they didn’t know about and they say that money had not been disclosed in previous financial statements.
When asked by reporters about the subpoena, Republican Governor John Kasich minimizes the notion that he has a big disagreement with Yost.
Kasich: "The thing is they want to audit more than the public money and it gets to be problematic. If we give an incentive to a company here and they want to go in and audit their books, it gets to be really unworkable and disruptive. But if a company takes public money, that money ought to be audited by the Auditor of the State. It’s no more complicated than that. Look, I mean sometimes you read things and it appears one way. It’s just a little disagreement about how we should proceed."
When Kasich was asked if he knew about the five million dollar grant amount, the Governor responds this way:
Kasich: "You need to understand how this all works. It’s a complicated entity and I would suggest that you go talk to the development service agency and get over to JobsOhio and talk to them so you will understand how this all comes together."
Kasich says Yost does not have the right to audit anything beyond public dollars and if an amendment spelling out a clarification in law about how JobsOhio can be audited is needed, he says lawmakers will get it. But the Republican Speaker of the Ohio House, Bill Batchelder, says he was key in writing the rules to begin with and says it is already clear that Yost is overstepping his authority.
Batchelder: "He doesn’t have that authority to go into a private corporation to audit it. I’m waiting for him to try to get in to Chrysler Motors or Fiat or whatever they call it now…. You know we bought a lot of cars from them this year. What’s going on over there?"
Batchelder says that last part in jest because he says private businesses do not allow public oversight of their books. He says there’s no reason to think there’s anything improper happening at JobsOhio.
Batchelder: "There might be a perception problem created by the auditor but I think most people understood that board, you’ve looked at the list of board members. These are people above reproach. I mean this is not some group of cowboys."
But Ohio’s Democratic Party Chairman, Chris Redfern, says he can’t understand the Governor’s response to these questions.
Redfern: "The fact of the matter is it all seems so defensive, so reactive, if the first response from the Governor’s office is it’s complicated and oh yeah, we are going to get an amendment added to a bill that would essentially strip away the state auditor’s ability to audit the books….In the old days you’d be a little less transparent if you are a crook on how you would steal the money."
Redfern says there’s no legal way nearly five million dollars of state money could have been transferred to JobsOhio without the authority of the Ohio legislature. And Redfern says that authority has never been given for those dollars.
Redfern: "And no one is down at the Statehouse right now threatening to storm the door saying what on Earth is going on--there are 4.3 million dollars missing!"
Recently, the state offered 100 million dollars in state bonds to provide more money for JobsOhio. Democratic State Representative Jay Carney says until these questions are answered, that transaction should be put on hold.
Carney:Writing a blank check, the taxpayers giving a 100 million dollar blank check, to an entity that is afraid to come forward and explain how they spent five million of your dollars has to make taxpayers wonder why would the legislature give that sort of broad authority to this entity.
Carney and other democrats say they want the head of JobsOhio to appear before lawmakers to answer questions about the public money before more dollars are transferred to the corporation.