Columbus -- Gov. John Kasich blasted a liberal advocacy group and others for suing over the constitutionality of JobsOhio, the nonprofit running point on the state's economic development programs.
In some of his strongest comments to date, Kasich called Progress Ohio's pending challenge before the Ohio Supreme Court "a political issue designed to wreck the progress that we're having in Ohio."
"This is not about constitutionality," the governor told a roomful of reporters Jan. 31. "This is about wrecking Ohio's economy and destroying people's jobs. ... There's no legitimacy to this."
He added, "These are people who are going to have to answer to a much higher power than me about why they have appealed and appealed and appealed."
But Brian Rothenberg, executive director of Progress Ohio, countered in a released statement, "The governor seems to be reverting to his 'bully' mentality once again, even if the facts don't support his statements. He swore to uphold the Ohio Constitution, not just the parts he likes. Progress Ohio and other plaintiffs, right and left, are simply participating in the checks and balances that keep power-hungry politicians from no democratic oversight. It may be inconvenient for John Kasich -- but it is essential to taxpayers."
The comments came about a week after the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear a case pitting Progress Ohio against JobsOhio, with justices set to determine whether the group has legal standing to question the nonprofit's constitutionality.
JobsOhio was created by lawmakers shortly after Kasich took office. Supporters believe it will be better positioned to work with businesses considering expansions or relocations in Ohio, with executives feeling more comfortable discussing such matters behind closed doors.
But opponents say the setup is unconstitutional, funneling public money and resources to a private organization that is exempted from portions of the state's open meetings and records laws.
Courts have not yet considered the constitutional claims, however.
Earlier courts ruled Progress Ohio did not have standing to bring suit, so their claims were moot. The Ohio Supreme Court will schedule oral arguments on that issue.
In the meantime, the state is moving forward with a bond sale of the profits of the state's liquor operations, the means the administration chose for funding JobsOhio.
Rothenberg and others have criticized that move, saying the bond sale should be postponed until legal questions have been settled.
Kasich said that the lawsuits have needlessly lengthened the process and prompted him to consider a "loser pays" system as a means thwarting "nuisance suits."
"I'm not announcing today that I'm doing it, but I'm getting closer to it," he said.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.