Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Backers hope Taft scandals don't mar future of Frontier



COLUMBUS - Ohio will return to the ballot Tuesday for the sixth time in 10 years to ask voters for permission to borrow money. Voters agreed in three of the five prior attempts.

The $2 billion Jobs for Ohio bond package, which would be repaid over 30 years with long-term interest hovering around $1 billion, has renewed debate over relationships between government and private industry and the ethics of stem-cell research.

"The investment generated by Issue 1 is exactly what Ohio needs to recover, grow, and prosper," said Karen Holbrook, president of Ohio State University.

Contrary to what opponents say, this issue is not corporate welfare. Merit-based research awards will provide new, high-paying jobs and benefit all of Ohio, she added.

While commercials supporting Issue 1 have focused on local workers and newspaper headlines, the just-launched opposition campaign turns the question into a referendum on Ohio's unpopular governor, Bob Taft, whose second-term has been stained with scandal caused in large part by former Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe.

The $2 billion Issue 1 would generate would be divided three ways:

  • $1.35 billion for roads, bridges, water and sewer lines, and other local public works projects, a renewal and expansion of an existing bond issue that voters first approved 20 years ago and renewed 10 years ago.

  • $500 million for Gov. Bob Taft's pet project, the Third Frontier investment in high-tech research, development, and product commercialization. Voters rejected a similar proposal in 2003 when it appeared alone on the ballot.

  • $150 million for utility and other infrastructure improvements for "shovel-ready" industrial and commercial site development.

    Part of the controversy surrounds language in the proposed amendment that exempts the Third Frontier and local site development components from a constitutional prohibition on the use of the state's credit to benefit corporations and become joint owners or stockholders in private business.

    "If Issue 1 would pass, the constitution would be amended, allowing the state and local governments to join in ownership of property as joint ventures," said Jim Ryan, a Columbus businessman who formed a small political action committee to oppose the borrowing package.

    "I can't adopt that type of socialism," he said. "It isn't good for small business and property owners. How do you compete with government?," asked Mr. Ryan.

    Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson, who doubles as state development director, said the state would not take stock ownership in business.

    However, it might benefit from profits generated by successful commercialization of products that might evolve from the research or infrastructure the state funds.

    "The state is a partner in investment," said Mr. Johnson.

    "If there is any receipt of profits, it will go back into job-creation programs, which is the current venture-capital plan. It's not ownership. And it's not profits per se. There can be requested return for the investment."

    Contact Jim Provance at: or 614-221-0496.

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