GOV. TED Strickland did something last week that politicians seldom do: He made a decision he knew beforehand would be unpopular, leave him open to attacks by political opponents, and threaten his chances of being re-elected in 2010.
Faced with loss of $851.5 million in expected revenue from video slot machines, the governor proposed delaying the final year of a five-year, 21 percent income tax reduction. The delay - probably for two years or until state revenues meet certain markers - would raise some $844 million that otherwise would have remained in the pockets of Ohio residents.
Mr. Strickland saw this as the only alternative to raising the sales tax - a regressive tax that would have placed the burden of balancing the state's books on the shoulders of its poorest residents - or cutting nearly $1 billion - probably on the backs of Ohio schoolchildren - from a budget already slashed by $2.4 billion.
That he chose the third course, the course likely to do him the most political damage, says something positive about a governor whose commitment to doing what's right we had begun to question. But the heat has already been turned up, with Republicans accusing Mr. Strickland of using "scare tactics" and "flip-flopping" on a pledge not to raise taxes.
Naturally, the governor is putting the best face he can on the decision, which will undoubtedly be seen as a tax increase by many Ohioans whose pay packets have been just a little fatter for months.
The advantage of putting off the final phase of the tax cut is that it will be hardly noticed. Ohioans won't pay more for 2009 than 2008 because the indexed personal exemption is due to increase from its current $1,500 to $1,550. In some case, taxpayers might actually owe less.
Mr. Strickland's plan to balance the budget by expanding the state lottery with thousands of slot machines in the state's seven horse racing tracks was ill-conceived from the outset. It called into question his commitment to oppose gambling and made him look, as one Republican consultant told the Columbus Dispatch, "politically too clever by half."
Unfortunately, he hasn't given up on raising money through lottery slots, but at least he has recognized that they aren't likely to add anything to state coffers in the short term.
As for the GOP - including endorsed candidate for governor John Kasich - there's more political capital to be gained attacking Governor Strickland than suggesting alternatives. That's why the only proposal they've come up with so far is: "Put us in charge." That's not sufficient.
The onus is now on the legislature, especially the Republican-controlled Senate, either to adopt the governor's proposal or come up with one of its own.
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