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Published: Tuesday, 5/24/2005

Into the 'Frontier,' again

The governor's 'Third Frontier' proposal will get another look in November, but new bells and whistles don't fix the flaws

YOU can put lipstick on a pig and call her Monique, but she's still a pig.

That old country aphorism pretty much sums up our misgivings about a ballot issue set for Ohio's Nov. 8 statewide election. It's basically Governor Taft's $500 million "Third Frontier" bond proposal that was defeated by voters last fall - the pig - gussied up with $1.5 billion in additional public works bond issues - the lipstick.

The $2 billion issue is an apparent ploy by the governor to prettify his high-tech investment plan by decorating it with gobs of money for popular projects like roads, bridges, and "job ready" industrial sites around Ohio.

Our lack of enthusiasm for what might be called "Third Frontier Lite" is not a knock against high-tech jobs. On the contrary, we believe that Ohio's future lies in employment in the technology sector, coupled with a higher education program to prepare the workers.

As in 2004, our objection lies in the belief that such bond issues would primarily benefit the economies of major university centers, which are comparatively well-off already, but would do little to create jobs in areas where they are needed most.

The ballot language for last year's Issue 1 claimed the plan would "help create thousands of high-paying jobs in every region of Ohio." But that was hyperbole; the issue itself contained no mechanism to make that assurance a reality.

Once more, it appears that Ohioans are being lured into borrowing a huge amount of money, which will have to be paid back with tens of millions of dollars in interest, based on a risky promise.

Certainly, construction jobs would be created through the low-tech portions of the proposal, bond issues which would provide $1.35 billion over 10 years for roads, bridges, water, and other public works projects, and $150 million over seven years to prepare industrial and business sites.

But the prospect for high-tech jobs is dimmer, especially since conservatives in the General Assembly like to drag their knuckles across state attempts to spur scientific inquiry. A provision in the current budget bill, for example, would prohibit state money from being used to fund research involving human embryonic stem cells or embryonic tissue.

One Ohio State University professor who opposes the ban said recently that it would effectively rule out participation by Ohio researchers in this promising biomedical field. Under those conditions, he added, "What scientist in his right mind would start a company in Ohio?"

As long as the executive and legislative branches work at cross purposes in this state, Ohio will continue to be left out when it comes to at least some areas of high-tech research. And the bond issue on the Nov. 8 ballot won't be of much help either.



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