Focusing on balanced budgets, tax cuts, surpluses and regulatory relief is the formula for ensuring Ohio grows businesses and makes itself more attractive to new companies, Gov. John Kasich said in a year-end speech Tuesday, Dec. 22.

Focusing on balanced budgets, tax cuts, surpluses and regulatory relief is the formula for ensuring Ohio grows businesses and makes itself more attractive to new companies, Gov. John Kasich said in a year-end speech Tuesday, Dec. 22.

But he warned: "It's easy to fall off the path."

"Our budget is in excellent shape. There are many states in this country where they can't seem to get it done," Kasich told a Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce gathering at the Westerville Area Resource Ministry.

Kasich stepped off the presidential campaign trail to talk about the highlights of 2015, a year in which he introduced and signed a $71.2 billion, two-year budget and spent significant time in states such as New Hampshire and Iowa trying to break through a crowded Republican field.

Kasich also found some Christmas spirit, signing an order giving $500,000 each in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money to the Ohio Community Action Agencies and the Ohio Association of Food Banks.

Polls have shown Kasich remains popular in Ohio, even as his presidential bid is struggling to gain traction in New Hampshire and elsewhere.

During the last 12 months, starting in November 2014, Ohio's unemployment rate dropped from 5.2 percent to 4.5 percent, a 0.7 percentage point drop that ranks 22nd nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most states with larger decreases still have higher unemployment rates than Ohio.

Ohio has recovered all jobs lost since the start of the Great Recession in December 2007, adding 75,800 jobs over the 12-month period. As a total number, it ranks ninth nationally, while the 1.4 percent growth rate ranks 28th.

As he often does, Kasich highlighted that Ohio's rainy-day fund now tops $2 billion.

The new budget included a 6.3 percent income tax reduction. Plus, small business owners, investors and sole proprietors operating as pass-through entities will no longer pay income tax on the first $250,000 in business income, and will pay a reduced rate of 3 percent on income exceeding $250,000.

"The result, I think, is going to be an increase in jobs and a strengthening of the economy," said Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina), who also spoke Tuesday along with Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville).

Kasich wanted a bigger across-the-board tax cut, but could not get lawmakers to go along with other tax changes that would help pay for it.

Kasich stressed the need to broaden the sales tax in an effort to further reduce the state income tax, and said he will continue pushing to do that despite resistance from lawmakers. That includes a continued push to increase what he has called Ohio's woefully puny severance tax on shale fracking -- another tax change that oil-and-gas-friendly GOP lawmakers have declined to move.

"We have to tax consumption and reduce risk-taking, investment and job creation (taxes)," Kasich said. "That's just the way it has to be. And that's tough.

"We've got members who say, 'not me, somebody else.' But we have to lead on this."

The vast majority of Ohioans pay an effective state income tax rate of less than 3 percent, and the top rate, on income of more than $212,000, is now at 5 percent.

School funding increased by hundreds of millions of dollars, and the state added $40 million to subsidize preschool for another 6,125 children. The budget also froze tuition rates for two years and provided a significant funding increase for universities.

Kasich was asked a question about his struggling poll numbers in the presidential race, but he declined to discuss it, saying that would wait until he returned to New Hampshire.

Kasich and his team pointed out other highlights from the year, including:

* Continuing efforts to deal with Ohio's drug addiction problem, whether it be heroin, prescription drugs or, more recently, fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate. "I think we are making progress, but the statistics are grim," Kasich said.

* Work to fix the dam at Buckeye Lake is ongoing, and Jim Zeringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said he hopes to be able to raise the level of the lake "a little" by early next summer.

* Continued progress in the effort to reduce unnecessary state regulations.

* Following high-profile police shootings involving unarmed black suspects, both in Ohio and elsewhere, Kasich created a task force that made recommendations about improving relations between communities and law enforcement. Some implementation has begun both in pending legislation and in the creation of standards for proper use of force.

* Kasich signed a bill aimed at improving Lake Erie's water quality by prohibiting the spread of manure on frozen soil in northwest Ohio and phasing out the disposal of dredged material in the lake. The state also reached an agreement with Michigan and Ontario to reduce phosphorus entering the lake by 40 percent by 2025.

* The budget aims an additional $286 million at increasing home- and community-based services for Ohio's disabled population.

* The budget allocated $14 million to help some lower-income families with subsidized health care and removing copays for those under the federal poverty level.