By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS — A liberal policy group fighting Gov. John Kasich’s new private job-creation board, JobsOhio, got the backing of an unusual ally Monday.
The libertarian 1851 Center for Constitutional Law filed a supporting brief in the lawsuit brought by liberal ProgressOhio and two Democratic state lawmakers, state Rep. Dennis Murray, of Sandusky, and state Sen. Mike Skindell, of Lakewood. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of turning public money over to a private entity.
Earlier this month, the 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus upheld a judge’s decision to dismiss the challenge on the grounds that opponents didn’t have legal standing. ProgressOhio appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court on Friday.
“It is our hope that the Ohio Supreme Court will recognize that citizens should have the right to challenge their government’s unconstitutional actions,” ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg said. “What more compelling standing can citizens have than to simply ask a court to rule on potentially unconstitutional actions? Otherwise, the Constitution of Ohio is essentially defenseless.”
The law center’s Maurice Thompson said laws denying taxpayers the standing to sue government are dangerous and increasingly common. That’s why the center — which has parted with ProgressOhio on a host of issues, including federal health care reform and union rights — decided to get involved, Thompson said.
He said Ohio’s appeals courts have issued opposing opinions on the constitutional question of whether taxpayers should have the right to sue government. In one case, a court said all taxpayers naturally have a stake in government programs. Another court ruled that taxpayers must have a special interest or involvement in a program to challenge it.
“These are just judges subjecting their own personal preferences on who can access court and who can’t, and that’s dead wrong,” Thompson said.
The groups hope their combined legal arguments will prompt the high court to reconsider.
Without standing, the crux of the case can’t go forward. That has to do with whether JobsOhio’s structure violates Ohio’s Constitution by going against its prohibition to turn over public money to a private entity. Thompson said whether The 1851 Center gets involved in that aspect of the case isn’t yet decided.
A spokesman for Kasich said the Republican governor had no comment on the pending litigation. The administration has argued that JobsOhio meets constitutional parameters. It says the agency is Kasich’s way of allowing Ohio to “move at the speed of business” amid high unemployment, free from constraints faced by the state-run Ohio Department of Development.
Ohio businesses have added more than 111,000 jobs since January 2011 in large part because of JobsOhio, Kasich spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp said. “We look forward to more success on this front but, quite frankly, we’re baffled how any person or group could be opposed to job creation when it’s so desperately needed in our state.”
Other states have also set up such public-private arrangements for pushing economic development.