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Published: Saturday, 7/8/2006

A two-bit tax cut

AS FAR as election year gimmicks go, Gov. Bob Taft's decision to accelerate a state tax cut right before Ohioans go to the polls in November is pretty transparent.

By ordering an 8.4 percent reduction in state withholding, beginning Oct. 1, the governor obviously hoped to impress voters and boost his party's chances on Nov. 7.

"With stronger revenues and lower state agency spending than expected," he declared, "we can afford to accelerate the withholding cut and make a substantial transfer to the state's rainy-day fund."

The cuts in withholding had been scheduled to occur in two installments of 4.2 percent each, in 2007 and 2008. Now they will come simultaneously, for the full amount, five weeks before Election Day.

But don't break out the champagne yet. The governor's generosity probably won't pay for a good bottle of bubbly.

Democrats estimate the political maneuver would translate into a windfall of $7.42 a month more in the paycheck of someone earning $66,000 year. By their figuring, that amounts to roughly a quarter more of spending money a day. Two bits. That's it.

That's hardly worth it. It won't offset the pain of $3 a gallon gasoline, the inevitable tax levies, and the steady escalation of college tuition costs. The governor's political gesture to win friends and influence election outcomes is too little too late.

Instead of siphoning $390 million from a state budget surplus for the fiscal year ending June 30 for up-front costs of a new tax cut timetable, why not save the whole thing?

Ohio's rainy day fund, depleted early in the decade to balance the books, needs to be replenished. The state would be better off putting the entire $390 million into its reserves, said state Sen. Teresa Fedor. The Toledo Democrat is right to call Mr. Taft's move "shortsighted."

As his party's elected leader, the governor sees an opportunity to help candidates forced to run in the face of scandal and corruption. But there's no public outcry for the chump change he offers.

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