The state’s non profit, private job creation corporation, JobsOhio, turned over documents that were subpoenaed by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost just about an hour ahead of the deadline. But as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the release of the documents doesn’t mean critics of JobsOhio have the answers to their questions about how public money was spent.
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost issued a short statement to reporters saying he was pleased JobsOhio had voluntarily responded to the request for records he wants to audit. A spokeswoman for Yost says the auditor was not in his office at the time the documents were handed over but he would be reviewing the information in the coming days. JobsOhio spokeswoman Laura Jones says the organization complied with Yost’s subpoena but also thinks the auditor is overstepping his authority by conducting an audit on JobsOhio.
Jones: "This is an overreach on the auditors part that could impact private companies, charities, other non profits, having them open their books up, any of those that received any private funds, it basically opens their books up to the auditors review."
Jones says her organization is giving back state dollars it has used in the past.
Jones: "JobsOhio will refund the one million dollars in start up money that the general assembly appropriated to them and JobsOhio beverage system, the former Ohio Business Development Coalition, will also refund any grant dollars as of July of 2011."
Jones says the auditor is mistaken in thinking he has the authority to audit JobsOhio. Jones says her organization wants the Ohio legislature to pass a bill that clarifies the state auditor has no authority to audit JobsOhio in the future. Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder says the legislature doesn’t plan to take up a bill like that right now because he thinks the Ohio Supreme Court needs to weigh in on the issue first.
Batchelder: "I’m just totally blown away by this."
Batchelder says the existing law that created JobsOhio makes it clear that Yost does not have the authority to audit that corporation.
Batchelder: "I presume that if he’s upheld then we are going to have difficulty having JobsOhio operate."
When asked what he thinks will come out of Yost’s investigation into JobsOhio, Batchelder responds this way:
Batchelder: "I can’t predict what he’s going to do. The man is erratic."
But Democratic State Representative Matt Lundy says Auditor Yost has every right to audit JobsOhio because Ohio taxpayers are essentially serving as the stockholders in that company. And Lundy says some of the things that are allegedly happening at JobsOhio now would never fly if a government agency were doing it.
Lundy: "Can you imagine if we would have created a department of development where we were going to spend over 360,000 dollars on office furniture and we were going to have a coffee bar and some flat screen t.v.’s and half of the staff was going to make over 100,000 dollars, there would be public outrage."
Lundy says Governor Kasich needs to account for how public dollars are being spent.
Lundy: "The Governor needs to stop hiding from the public through his spokesperson. He created an unaccountable slush fund secret society. He needs to admit he made a mistake, this is bad for Ohio."
Lundy says JobsOhio needs to go back to being a publicly run development department so taxpayers know how their money is being spent. Another Democratic lawmaker, John Carney, says there’s a big difference between JobsOhio and other private organizations that receive government money. Carney notes virtually all of the money JobsOhio receives comes from the state. And he has one word for the plan by JobsOhio to refund some public money already paid into it – ridiculous.
Carney: "The idea of paying back public money with public money and saying we’ve made everybody whole is one of the more ridiculous statements I’ve heard this week. And that’s saying a lot around the general assembly. We are looking for full transparency, where did they get this money, where did they spend it and what private dollars were received and spent."
In a hand delivered letter to members of the general assembly, Auditor Yost says the jurisdiction of his office does not extend to any private corporation that accepts a public dollar. But he says JobsOhio is different because the board members are appointed by the governor and state liquor profits that are its primary funding method were given to it by lawmakers.