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Published: Saturday, 9/20/2003

Candidates are gearing up - for 2006

COLUMBUS - Ken Blackwell fought to repeal the sales tax rate increase.

Larry Householder worked to broker a deal between community hospitals and physicians over the spread of “specialty hospitals. “

Democratic legislators took credit for a deal that offers discounts of up to 40 percent on prescription drugs to the uninsured and those 60 and older.

And Andy Douglas urged educators to get more involved in politics, using the latest state Supreme Court decision on school funding as the litmus test for legislative candidates.

Last week could be considered the unofficial kickoff of the 2006 election season, more evidence that the type of fever found along the Potomac also breeds in the murky waters where the Scioto and Olentangy rivers meet.

Mr. Blackwell, the former state Treasurer who is now Secretary of State, is among three potential GOP candidates for governor in 2006, along with state Attorney General Jim Petro and state Auditor Betty Montgomery. Last week, he tried to nail down conservative primary voters by launching a petition drive to repeal the increase in the statewide sales tax rate from 5 percent to 6 percent.

Mr. Blackwell said he is aligned with state Sen. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana) and other conservative Republicans who last May released a balanced-budget plan that would not have raised taxes.

State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said Mr. Jordan's plan would have increased human services spending by $2.7 billion over two years, and cut K-12 and higher education by nearly $1 billion.

Under that plan, the state would have cut aid to Toledo Public Schools by $20 million this school year, by $2.5 million to Sandusky city schools, by $3 million to Sylvania city schools, and by nearly $1 million to Genoa, Mr. Gardner said. “On campaign finance reform, I am with Secretary Blackwell. On cutting funds to local schools, I am not with him,” he said.

Mr. Householder, the House speaker from Perry County, is with Mr. Petro in the 2006 governor's race. Saddled with a tight state budget, Mr. Householder also wants to be on the GOP ticket, most likely for state auditor.

He took a step forward last week by forcing a compromise over a bill that would prohibit physicians from referring patients to in-patient hospital services in which they have a financial interest.

That bill stalled, and so Mr. Householder put his clout behind a two-year moratorium on specialty hospitals until their effect on community hospitals can be evaluated. It now moves to the Senate.

As Mr. Blackwell talked taxes and Mr. Householder turned to health-care economics, Democratic legislators took credit for an issue that has dogged Mr. Taft since his 2001 State of the State Address.

Two weeks ago, state Sen. Robert Hagan (D., Youngstown), whose brother ran for governor last year, put out a calendar titled “Broken Promises” that chronicles the governor's struggle to cut a deal to offer seniors discounts on prescription drugs through the Golden Buckeye card. “This past year Governor Taft has been outmaneuvered and out-muscled and Ohioans continue to suffer,” Mr. Hagan said on Sept. 10.

Last Thursday, a coalition led by the AFL-CIO signed an agreement with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of Ohio to offer discounts. The pact is subject to legislative approval and Mr. Taft's signature.

Mr. Hagan, sponsor of a discount-drug bill that the GOP kept locked in committee, said: “The cost savings that are proposed are very encouraging as are the number of uninsured Ohioans that will likely be eligible for costs savings under the plan.”

Last Wednesday, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas received two standing ovations in a speech to 250 supporters of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, which sued the state in 1991 over how Ohio pays for public schools.

Mr. Douglas - a partner with the Columbus law firm of Crabbe, Brown & James - took aim at the legislature, with all 99 House seats and 16 of 33 Senate seats on the ballot next year.

He urged educators to form mini-coalitions to buttonhole candidates on how they stand on the high court's December, 2002, ruling that said the funding system must undergo a “systematic overhaul.”

“The questions should be specific and anything less than a direct answer, such as ‘I'm not on the finance committee' or ‘it is so complicated I would first have to see what is proposed' or ‘that it is in the hands of the governor and leadership,' or ‘I don't know where the money would come from,' or any other such response that begs the question, should be met with the same responses that you give students when they are not prepared and refuse to get prepared,” Mr. Douglas said.

The 2006 statewide election is three years away. Last week showed it's never too early to prepare.



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