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Published: Monday, 7/27/2009

Compass for sale

TED Strickland's flip-flop last month in favor of allowing electronic slot machines to be placed at Ohio's seven horse-racing tracks was disturbing both because it was the wrong decision and because it reinforces the perception that the governor's core personal beliefs about public issues may be built on sand rather than stone.

State and local governments from Maine to California are facing impossibly difficult economic choices as tax revenues drop because of the recession. Because, unlike the feds, state governments aren't allowed to spend money they don't have, the solutions available could be reduced to three possibilities: raise taxes or fees, cut services, or look for new revenue streams.

Neither Governor Strickland nor the General Assembly had any stomach for raising taxes in the current economic climate. That left cutting programs or finding creative new ways to put their hands in people's pockets. And cut they did, trimming $2.4 billion from a biennial budget that already had been slashed by billions and propped up by billions more in one-time federal stimulus dollars.

That left some $800 million in red ink, which the governor chose to erase by decreeing that electronic slot machines, styled as "video lottery terminals," which he previously had adamantly opposed, were not only acceptable but didn't require voter approval because they were just an extension of the Ohio Lottery.

The governor walked down this ambiguous path last year when he decided to put computerized Keno games at horse-racing tracks and in licensed bars and restaurants. But two years ago, he blasted a Senate bill that would have allowed race tracks to install video horse-racing machines - essentially a form of electronic slots - as "an attempt to circumvent the will of the voters."

Naturally, this vacillation makes it difficult for us to credit his assurance that his opposition to casino gambling remains firm.

And it makes us wonder if Governor Strickland's policy compass is the same one carried by Capt. Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, pointing to the thing he wants most rather than always holding to one, true path.

If that's the case, if a budget deficit trumps opposition to an activity this ordained minister has repeatedly called a scourge on society, then what's next?

Is there a level of economic necessity that will make it OK to legalize and tax prostitution or drugs? The first already is legal and taxed in Nevada, and the latter is being considered in California.

Is the governor's compass for sale?

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