If anyone knows what it means to lose federal funds, it’s Gov. John Kasich.
For the past year, the governor has aggressively pushed state legislators to accept the federally funded Medicaid expansion. Kasich’s argument is simple: Whether he approves of Obamacare or not — he doesn’t — the money was already allocated to states to expand their Medicaid programs. If Ohio doesn’t accept, the money will be redirected to another state. Therefore, it’s in the best interest of the state to take the money and use it to insure its low-income residents.
In this case, Kasich might be speaking from experience. After he was elected in 2010, the governor-to-be quickly disavowed $400 million in federal funds that would have financed a light rail line between Cincinnati and Cleveland. But the state didn’t keep that money; instead, the federal government redirected the funds to California and other states that were actually pursuing light rail.
It’s great that Kasich is pursuing the Medicaid expansion. Really, any state that doesn’t accept the expansion is financially incompetent. Case in point: The Health Policy Institute of Ohio estimates the expansion will insure half a million Ohioans and generate $1.8 billion over the next decade. That’s because, under Obamacare, the federal government picks up the entire tab for the expansion through 2016 and then phases down its contribution to an indefinite 90 percent. In comparison, the federal government paid for nearly 64 percent of Ohio’s Medicaid program in 2013.
But it’s sad that Kasich couldn’t put his political leanings ahead of the first great deal from the federal government. It’s a reminder that although Kasich is acting fairly progressive on Medicaid, he’s absolutely not progressive on other issues.
Cincinnati, more than any other city in the state, should be well aware of Kasich’s record. Not only did Cincinnati lose out on a light rail line that would have connected it to Columbus and Cleveland, but Kasich also pulled $52 million in federal funds from the local streetcar project. (For the record, the Transportation Review Advisory Committee gave Cincinnati’s streetcar project the highest ranking among all the transportation projects it reviewed before allocating federal funds. It wasn’t until Kasich put his appointees on TRAC that the supposedly apolitical committee changed its mind and yanked the federal funds.)
Kasich’s inconsistency in accepting federal funds shows that he’s not just interested in getting the best deal for the state; he’s interested in pursuing politics and a specific agenda.
After all, it’s weirdly inconsistent for a governor to oppose Obamacare as an example of government overreach and then jump right into expanding a government-run health insurance program.
Similarly, it’s strange for a governor to describe the federal funds for the Medicaid expansion as “our money” but allow much of the $400 million in federal funding for light rail projects to go to the “wackadoodles” in California, as Kasich calls them.
Perhaps Kasich is learning from his past mistakes. Maybe he believes losing hundreds of millions in federal funding was bad enough and throwing away nearly $2.6 billion for the Medicaid expansion would show a complete lack of fiscal responsibility.
It’s hard to say, but the inconsistent approach is clearly costing Ohio.
Other News and Stuff
• Cincinnati on Oct. 15 laid down the first two streetcar tracks. For Mayor Mark Mallory and other city leaders, the milestone marked the end of years of overcoming political and financial hurdles, including referendums in 2009 and 2011 and Kasich’s decision to pull federal funds. For mayoral candidate John Cranley, the milestone was another reason to complain about the project and criticize his opponent, Roxanne Qualls, for supporting it.
• More than 3,000 Cincinnatians who already voted early will get new ballots in the mail after an Ohio Supreme Court decision forced the Hamilton County Board of Elections to change the ballot language for Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system. Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, says the old ballots will at least count for every candidate and issue except Issue 4, but the 3,000-plus voters could have to resubmit their ballots to have their votes counted on the controversial pension issue. The board will make the final decision on whether to count the old votes for or against Issue 4 after it hears from state officials and reviews election law, according to Krisel.