FOUR years ago Gov. Bob Taft assumed leadership of a state so flush with money it was making refunds to taxpayers. The rainy day fund had reached $2 billion and the new governor kept the party going by giving away some $903 million in tax cuts his first two years in office.
Now, state revenues have dried up, the rainy day fund has been depleted, state agencies and higher education have been cut to the bone, tax loopholes have been closed, and the cigarette tax has been hiked from 24 cents to 55 cents a pack. And it was still a struggle for the state to patch a $3.4 billion hole in the budget.
With state tax revenues continuing to decline, it could be even harder to plug budget deficits next year. So what's a governor running for re-election to do? How about a little straight talk about what the administration and Republican lawmakers plan to do by next July 1 to balance the budget. Is a tax increase inevitable? We certainly hope not, but we're not told.
Ohio voters deserve nothing less than forthright information about their taxes before going to the polls in November. They understand dire problems sometimes require dire solutions. Nobody relishes the idea of higher taxes but everybody respects truthfulness about the possibility.
Dodging questions about the option of a major tax increase with a lame gubernatorial response, “I'm not ruling it in. I'm not ruling it out,” is a cop out. The message it sends to Ohioans is that potential backlash counts more than political backbone.
There is a political downside for incumbents and challengers who sidestep critical issues of governance while asking voters to blindly place their trust in them. Voters do not take lightly to politicians who hedge their bets at public expense.
Now, not later, Governor Taft and his Democratic opponent Tim Hagan, must candidly reveal what likely choices Ohioans will face in light of anticipated shortfalls in the upcoming state budget. If tax increases are absolutely on the table as a way to balance the books, voters have a right to know before they pick a governor in November.
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