Two Democratic lawmakers and a liberal policy group filed a lawsuit Monday against the nonprofit job-creation board JobsOhio, claiming it violates seven sections of the Ohio Constitution.
The suit challenges the law championed by Gov. John Kasich, who signed it Feb. 18, creating and laying out responsibilities for a nine-member board of business executives headed by the governor.
Kasich, a Republican, pushed the approach as a way of bolstering Ohio's job creation efforts amid high unemployment. He said freeing officials from some of the constraints faced by the state-run Ohio Department of Development would allow them to "move at the speed of business" on economic development deals. Several other states use a similar model.
Plaintiffs state Sen. Mike Skindell of Lakewood, state Rep. Dennis Murray of Sandusky, and ProgressOhio.org contend the semi-private entity crosses constitutional lines.
"The interest of political expediency does not trump the Ohio Constitution, which for over 150 years has existed in this state, and every other governor has managed to abide by it and create jobs," said Brian Rothenberg, ProgressOhio.org's executive director.
The suit says it's unconstitutional for the governor to take a second position of authority for the state while serving as governor. It also claims the Constitution prohibits the state from being a joint owner or stockholder in a private company or association and that JobsOhio creates debt liabilities for the state that aren't allowed.
The suit is before the Ohio Supreme Court.
Kasich has said all along the board is on solid legal footing. Spokesman Rob Nichols said Monday that the administration could not comment on specifics.
"While we do not comment on pending litigation, it is no surprise that there are groups out there that are more interested in trying to score political points than they are in seeing Ohio succeed," he said.
Skindell said during a Monday news conference that the Constitution seeks to balance "corporate welfare and true economic development."
"We are for doing those things that bring businesses here and revitalize our state. We are for having Ohio be the place where businesses and families want to move," he said. "But we cannot bend the Ohio Constitution in accomplishing those goals."
The senator said that he and Murray had no choice but to challenge the law, because lawmakers take an oath to uphold the Ohio Constitution. Most members of Skindell's caucus in the Senate, including Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro, voted in favor of the JobsOhio bill, however. Kasich touted the bipartisan support of his priority legislation.
Democrats raised similar issues about JobsOhio when Kasich first announced the idea during the 2010 campaign.
At that time, Nichols cited legal precedent, including a 1991 attorney general's opinion that allowed a township to provide tax dollars to a private nonprofit hospital for health care for poor residents.
"JobsOhio would be constitutional, and legislative and judicial precedent exists for private entities being entrusted by the state to perform a public purpose," he said at the time.
The action claims it is also unconstitutional for the Supreme Court to be set as the original jurisdiction for a legal challenge to a state law. Skindell said if the court upheld that challenge, it could move the case to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.