Kasich proposes use for Third Frontier funds, and it’s not what you voted for

While Innovation Ohio is still examining the details of Governor Kasich’s Jobs Ohio plan, one detail immediately caught our attention.

The Dispatch recently reported that the Kasich administrative officials indicated that part of JobsOhio’s strategy will be to work closely with regional partners throughout the state, with funds for this partnership to come from a pool of $24 million from the Third Frontier Commission.  While Innovation Ohio agrees that having a regional presence throughout the state is important and something that should be included in any economic development strategy, we question the earmarking of Third Frontier Funds for this purpose.

Not only are taxpayer funds yet again being used for a supposedly ‘private’ enterprise, this use is simply not the intended purpose of these funds.  The ballot language approved by voters in May 2010 specifically stated that “independent oversight” would be required of research and development projects, and that State agencies that are awarded funding from these funds would “obtain independent reviews of and recommendations as to the merits of the proposed research and development project.”

While this type of earmarking has been tried in the past, members of legislature and the Third Frontier Commission adamantly defended the intended purpose and oversight of the funds. Now Secretary of the State, Jon Husted, in particular, defended the integrity of the process saying, “I do not support the continued short-circuiting of the competitive process the legislature created to disperse the Third Frontier Funds.”  The Plain Dealer noted that these funds “shouldn’t be a political honey pot,” and such a move ”defies the will of the voters,” who supported “investing state money on promising high-tech projects, not on politicians’ efforts to score points with certain constituencies.”

It is our hope that past defenders of the Third Frontier and members of the legislature will help remind Governor Kasich of the importance of an independent review process, with independent experts, for the use of these funds.  Will the legislature uphold the will of the voters and maintain the competitive process for the use of Third Frontier Funds?  Or will they allow Governor Kasich to have yet another ‘honey pot’?