MEDINA, Ohio (AP/WTVN) -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich used his annual State of the State speech Monday to pledge a new round of tax cuts, propose using casino money for a plan to boost ties between communities and schools and said state education funding to two-year colleges will be tied to course completion and graduation.
Kasich also pushed the importance of vocational training as an alternative route for some students, proposed giving veterans free academic credits for training and experience they received during their military service, and promised a new fight against smoking in the state.
In a dramatic moment, Kasich presented his annual courage awards to three women who survived a decades-long captivity in Cleveland before being rescued in May when one of the women pushed her way through a door to freedom.
Kasich called them "three extraordinary women who, despite having the worst in this world thrown at them_rose above it and emerged not as victims, but as victors. They are an inspiration to us all."
The governor also used the speech to indirectly ask Ohio voters to support him over likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald in November.
Citing a spiritual mission to "bring about a healing" before he dies, he likened his first term to a hike up a mountain.
"After you've struggled through the early obstacles you get out on more solid ground, and when you get out on that more solid ground you get the first glimpse of your goal — the summit — and you come together and it lifts your spirits, and you get that extra boost to keep going," he said.
As he got his speech underway, Kasich pushed a plan to drive Ohio's tax rates under 5 percent for individuals and businesses. The state's present income tax rate is 5.33 percent.
"When Ohioans have more money in their pockets, we're being true to the fundamental idea that made our nation great," he said to applause. "Government works for the people, not the other way around."
Education was a key theme of the address, which took place at the Performing Arts Center in Medina. This marks the third year in a row Kasich has taken the speech outside the Statehouse in Columbus.
Kasich proposed spending $10 million in casino revenue to get communities more involved with schools and parents more involved in their children's education.
Kasich said returning veterans ought to be able to use the top training they get from the Armed Forces when they come back to Ohio.
"If you can drive a truck from Kabul to Kandahar in Afghanistan, don't you think you should be able to drive a truck from Columbus to Cleveland?" he said.
Kasich will introduce a midterm budget bill soon that could be the vehicle for the policy priorities of the fourth and final year of his term. He has signaled the bill may provide a mechanism for further reducing state income tax rates. He said during his 2010 campaign that he supported eventually eliminating the tax.
"Our great purpose will continue to be helping every Ohioan have a chance to find a job that lets them fulfill their purpose," he said.
The $62 billion, two-year state budget Kasich signed in June cut Ohio's income tax rates by 8.5 percent in 2013, another half percent in 2014 and another 1 percent in 2015. These were Ohio's first downward revisions since 2009.
Democrats said that Gov. John Kasich's address didn't match the reality of what's actually happening in Ohio.
House Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard says Ohio's economy is far from fixed and the Kasich plan isn't working.
"Top-down economics, giving tax breaks to the wealthiest in our communities certainly aren't going to do anything to stimulate our economy. It hasn't worked since the Reagan days, it's not working here," she said.
She described JobsOhio, Kasich's semi-private economic development agency, as "over-promised and under-delivered."
"There's no demonstrable job growth from that," she said.
Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat from Boardman, blasted Kasich for bragging about cutting taxes. He says the governor may have cut state taxes, but other taxes have gone up.
"We raised the sales tax, we took away the homestead exemption, and we made it more difficult to pass levies because we took away the state's share," he said.
He also took exception with Kasich's most-often used accomplishment that he balanced the state's budget despite an $8 billion shortfall.
"He's talking about balancing the budget as if that's something new, as if it isn't required by law. He balanced the budget on the backs of seniors, homeowners, schools, and safety forces by way of local government cuts," he said.
Another key point of Kasich's address was helping students realize earlier and earlier what they'd like to do in life. Heard says that's not the right approach.
"I don't think it's upon us to predetermine what the destiny of our children is going to be when they're in the sixth and seventh grade," she said.
Heard would rather see more investment in early childhood education for all Ohio children.