Ohio bill shielding liquor deal money heads to governor
Written by ANN SANNER, Associated Press   
Friday, 31 May 2013 06:14

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Proceeds of the state's $1.5 billion liquor deal with a job-creation nonprofit would be shielded from public audit under a late addition to a fast-tracked bill now headed to the governor's desk.

The move is meant to clear up an ongoing dispute over whether the state auditor has the authority to review certain financial records of JobsOhio, a private entity formed by Republican Gov. John Kasich and approved by state lawmakers to spur economic development in the state.

The GOP-dominated Senate passed the measure on a 22-10 vote Thursday, despite objections from state Auditor Dave Yost, a fellow Republican. Kasich is expected to sign the bill.

The amendment explicitly limits Yost's authority to auditing JobsOhio's public funds — and clarifies that proceeds from the sale of bonds backed by state liquor profits for the next 25 years are not public, but private.

In the minutes before the bill's passage, Yost told senators he had not seen the amendment prior to when the House added it and passed it on Wednesday.

Yost said in a written letter that his office requested the vote be postponed for a week so he might offer input. The House didn't yield.

"With only a few hours to review it, I am uncertain as to all its legal implications and its impact on other matters wholly unrelated to JobsOhio," Yost wrote on Thursday.

Yost said the bill's definition of "public money" was untested and could have unintended consequences, therefore he couldn't support it.

The bill would limit the public money the auditor could review to those taxes collected on the liquor sales that are due to the state's Department of Taxation. It also would require JobsOhio to consult with the auditor in hiring an independent accounting firm to perform, once each year, a financial audit of JobsOhio.

Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney, of Cincinnati, read portions of Yost's letter to his colleagues on the floor and said the bill's changes were done in a "hurried fashion."

"I would ask that we either put these changes aside and let a Senate committee review them — or just not consider the bill at this time because it is just not proper to pass this, this legislation," he said.

Backers say the move clarifies the Legislature's intent for JobsOhio, whose dealings have been the subject of legal and political disagreements since its 2011 creation.

Republicans have said allowing the state auditor into the private books of JobsOhio and other nonprofit corporations that spend public money — including the Cleveland Clinic or Ohio State University — would compromise Ohio's economic prospects.

Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said he worked with Yost, JobsOhio and the state to reach an agreement on the audits. He said the amendment was faithful to the negotiations between the parties.

"It is probably time to put behind us this contentious and challenging issue," Seitz said, adding he would work with Yost to straighten out any ambiguities.

The amendment follows a faceoff between Yost and JobsOhio over access to its financial records for an audit.

JobsOhio volunteered its public financial records but declined to produce documentation of its private finances — including income, private donations, and spending.

Yost ultimately subpoenaed the records and JobsOhio turned them over in protest.

The Kasich administration says the House provision clears up confusion.

JobsOhio spokeswoman Laura Jones has said the measure "not only helps JobsOhio know how to move forward but it's also critically important for the job creators who use economic development incentives to grow and expand in Ohio."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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