Proposed Limit to State Spending Pulled from November Ballot Consideration

Gongwer News Service - August 8, 2005

Blackwell, in Deal with GOP, Now Aims for 2006 Vote

Gongwer News Service

Two days before the filing deadline, Citizens for Tax Reform officially backed off plans to submit petitions bearing more than 500,000 signatures for a proposed Nov. 8 ballot issue to limit state spending, with the group announcing Monday it would instead seek a November 2006 vote on the constitutional amendment.

The development follows weeks of discussions between the amendment’s chief backer and gubernatorial hopeful, Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, and other Republicans who have urged the official to delay the issue by one year. Key Republicans have argued that a modified version of the plan would aid GOP election efforts in 2006, when half of the Senate seats and all House seats and statewide offices are on the ballot. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, July 22, 2005)

“After consultation with legislative leadership, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett and TEL supporters, the committee decided this issue deserves the widest possible exposure and debate,” Mr. Blackwell, CTR’s honorary chairman, said in a statement. “The 2006 General Election ballot gives Ohio voters that opportunity.”

“I intend to be the GOP nominee for Governor and expect this amendment to be a major element of my platform of fiscal restraint for government and job creation for the private sector,” Mr. Blackwell added.

CTR plans to file the signatures it has collected thus far on Thursday, the day after the deadline for this fall’s ballot.

Along with the potential election-year benefits for the party, Republicans, who control both legislative chambers, all statewide offices and the Ohio Supreme Court, also want to focus their money and other party resources on derailing or defeating the redistricting and elections law changes in the package of constitutional amendments backed by Reform Ohio Now, which plans on filing its signatures with the secretary of state’s office on Tuesday. There has been some concern among inner GOP circles that voters would see the three RON amendments in the same “reform” vein as the Blackwell proposal, thus providing an inadvertent boost to constitutional changes that would: alter the way congressional and legislative districts are drawn with a new focus on competitiveness; create a statewide board to oversee the elections process, and; lower campaign contribution limits.

“This gesture by Secretary Blackwell will allow us to focus our resources this year on defeating the special interest amendments being pushed by pro-Democrat unions and liberal activist groups,” Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett said in the news release issued by CTR.

RON backers need to submit signatures from at least 322,899 registered voters, based on the number of voters in the 2002 gubernatorial election, and meet certain thresholds in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties to qualify for a fall ballot spot.

If RON is successful – a GOP-led group in a preliminary strike has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to block the petition filings – the three constitutional amendments would join a $2 billion research, development and local infrastructure bond package on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The bond issue, a key initiative for Governor Bob Taft, was endorsed last week by the General Assembly. Speaker Jon Husted (R-Kettering) said in an interview that Monday’s decision by Mr. Blackwell would keep the TEL from detracting from the effort to pass the bonds.

“I’m pleased it’s not on the ’05 ballot,” Mr. Husted said. “It will give us a chance to focus on our primary issue…which is the Jobs for Ohio package.”

CTR’s proposed “tax expenditure limit” (TEL) would cap annual state spending increases at 3.5% or the growth in consumer price index and population, whichever is greater. It includes, among other things, language exempting local governments from certain state mandates and a provision requiring unspent surplus revenue to be pooled and returned to taxpayers each year. Voter approval would be required for spending that exceeds the limits.

The Campaign to Protect Ohio’s Future, a group of mostly government program advocates, had formed to oppose the issue this fall. Researchers including Policy Matters Ohio have been critical of various aspects of the plan, saying among other things that Bureau of Workers’ Compensation funds and lottery proceeds could be put at risk under some of the provisions. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, July 26, 2005)

“There are some minor issues, but we are confident that we can negotiate those,” CTR spokesman Gene Pierce said. “We don’t think they are going to be serious.”

Recalling the debate over last year’s same-sex marriage ban, Mr. Pierce added, “Everybody said there was going to be a million lawsuits and we’ve had one.”

Campaign to Protect Ohio’s Future spokeswoman Jenny Camper said the delay could aid TEL opponents in getting the word out about the harmful implications of the issue.

“Whether they do it in 2006 or in 2005, it’s a flawed proposal,” Ms. Camper said. “It is just fraught with problems and ambiguities and we plan on spending the next year educating Ohioans about the problems in this amendment.”

Speaker Husted said he didn’t want to debate the quality of the TEL proposal, instead pointing to the recently passed, relatively austere biennium budget bill as evidence that fiscally prudent government policy could be accomplished without constitutional restraints.

All through the budget deliberations, the speaker maintained that a TEL was unnecessary.

“What we’re talking about in the TEL is what we did in the legislature this year, which is to control spending,” Mr. Husted said Monday, noting the bill entailed extensive Medicaid and tax system changes designed to reduce costs and promote the state’s economy well into the future.

Mr. Blackwell’s move prompted ridicule from Scott Pullins, president and CEO of the Ohio Taxpayers Association. “Blackwell says he is a friend of taxpayers, but nothing could be further from the truth. Every time he gets involved, Ohioans get shafted,” he said in a statement.

Noting CTR’s prior failed effort at an early repeal of a temporary sales tax hike, Mr. Pullins suggested a pattern at work with the secretary of state’s initiatives. “Blackwell has used the threat of this constitutional amendment to cut a secret deal to benefit his campaign for governor,” he said.

CTR voluntarily filed a finance report recently showing the campaign had raised and spent more than $300,000 to collect signatures for the effort, with most of the money coming from a newly formed issue advocacy group called Ohioans for Responsible Government. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, August 5, 2005) Mr. Pierce said ORG, which has contributed $225,000 of CTR’s total, according to campaign finance reports, did not have a problem with the delay.

Along with the TEL, proposed statewide initiatives for a new school finance system, casino gambling, a statewide smoking ban and universal health care still remain in the planning stages for 2006 and beyond.

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