Governor Kasich has asked Ohioans to be patient and to “keep an open mind” while we wait for the results of his $3.4 Million KPMG turnpike study to be officially released. Kasich wants us to think he is anxiously waiting to review the results so he can make the best decision possible for the Ohio Turnpike. But make no mistake: his mind was made up long before consultants ever started billing the state for their time.
Yesterday we confirmed a top ODOT manager believed the consultants were hired specifically to help support Kasich’s plans to lease the turnpike. Additional documents obtained by Plunderbund tell a similar story, with Kasich not only hiring transportation and financing experts, but also a top PR and marketing company as part of the consulting team. The firm, Fahlgren Mortine, developed a communication plan back in May designed to sell the turnpike study and its results to Ohioans. The plan not only focused on developing messaging for the Kasich administration around leasing/bonding the turnpike but also on helping to shut down opposition to the turnpike study and Kasich’s proposal.
According to the original contract with the state, Fahlgren was allocated 5% of the project’s funding. At the revised cost of $3.4 Million dollars, the firm may have been paid up to $170,000 – of your money – to help manipulate you into liking Kasich’s turnpike proposal.
While consultants from KPMG were just starting their work assessing labor costs and traffic flow, Kasich’s team, with the help of Fahlgren, was already planning their big final marketing blitz and the slow, deliberate PR campaign leading up to it. A draft version of the Turnpike Communication Plan sets out objectives like “influence the influencers” , “develop a coalition of ‘champions’”, “position a rapid response team” and “diffuse opposition by addressing concerns and counter specific attacks with simple and consistent messaging.”
The plan also locked down the key messaging points, which we’ve heard repeated again and again by Kasich and his team for the past year:
Objective: To support these goals, it is important that everyone on the project consistently convey our core messages in dealings with stakeholders. ODOT and the analysis team have already established overarching key messages that have been used in various forums regarding the Analysis, and at a minimum, the message should build on the positive momentum already underway by incorporating key themes currently in use:
1) the State of Ohio is facing a major transportation funding shortfall
2) there is a need to seriously consider innovative alternatives to tap into the value of existing profitable assets and reinvest in new infrastructure
3) a range of alternatives are being considered and the preferred option will emerge from a diligent analysis by an independent, unbiased advisory team.
With a clear understanding of how these messages will resonate, the state of Ohio is poised to make informed decisions regarding potential ‘tag lines’ and core messages that can be delivered in outreach efforts.
Some important reminders about this messaging: the “major transportation funding shortfall”, mentioned in point 1, is a creation of the Kasich administration intended to help convince Ohioans of the need to extract cash from turnpike. Kasich appointees on the The Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) came up with the list of projects that needed to be funded, while Kasich slashed funding for new ODOT construction projects by 80% in his 2012 budget.
And the idea that KPMG or any of the other consultants is acting as an “independent, unbiased advisory team” is ridiculous. As we pointed out yesterday, the consultants received instructions directly from Kasich’s office. And Kasich’s office commissioned the turnpike study (aka: Opportunity Analysis) with the expressed purpose of “unlocking value” in the Ohio Turnpike. Kasich hired, paid and directed the consultants. There’s nothing “independent” or “unbiased” about that.
Kasich has been clear from the beginning that he wants to use the Turnpike as an ATM for his campaign, distributing Turnpike money around the state to help buy him votes in 2014. The KPMG study, and associated PR and marketing campaign, is nothing more than a very expensive, state-funded way to provide Kasich some political cover for his decision.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: every time you hear about the turnpike study in a news report or an editorial or on a website like this one created by Kasich and his consultants to promote their plan, you are being targeted by Kasich’s marketing campaign – and it was funded with your tax dollars. Every time you hear one of Kasich’s “champions” discussing funding problems at ODOT or the “success” of Indiana’s toll road lease, Kasich is trying to dupe you.
I agree with Kasich on one thing: everyone needs to “keep an open mind”. It’s the only way we can avoid being suckered into believing Kasich’s short-sighted plans for one of Ohio’s greatest assets is good for anyone but John Kasich.
p.s. If this recent editorial in the Vindicator is any indication, the communication plan, which included outreach to editorial boards, doesn’t appear to be going so well. Editors at the Vindicator slam Kasich continuously throughout the piece while accurately identifying Kasich’s true purpose with his turnpike proposal: Kasich “doesn’t see the turnpike as a functioning engine of prosperity for the state’s northern tier. He sees it as an under-utilized asset that he can convert into quick cash. He can then spread the money around the state the way a sovereign hands out the spoils of war to his favorite vassals.”