COLUMBUS - Scarred by scandal, Gov. Bob Taft was nowhere to be seen during the pro-Issue 1 campaign, and yesterday, voters approved the three-part, $2 billion bond issue that includes $500 million for Mr. Taft's "Third Frontier" program.
"This was never about me," Mr. Taft said last night. "This was about creating jobs for the people of Ohio. We said that from the beginning, that it had to be a bipartisan effort."
Though Mr. Taft did not appear in any pro-Issue 1 TV ads, opponents made the governor an issue. They used his image in a TV ad that questioned how Mr. Taft could be trusted while urging Ohioans to defeat the proposal.
In August, Mr. Taft, his administration already at the center of the scandal over a failed $50 million rare-coin investment, became Ohio's first governor to be convicted on criminal charges after he broke the state's ethics law.
With Mr. Taft's popularity plummeting, Issue 1 backers assigned Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson, the state's development director, to push the ballot issue, unlike two years ago when Mr. Taft was the front man for a similar proposal.
The ballot issue passed yesterday enables the state to borrow $2 billion, with $1.35 billion for roads, bridges, water lines, sewers, and other public works projects; $500 million for Mr. Taft's "Third Frontier" program to invest in "high-tech" projects, and $150 million for improvements to industrial and commercial sites.
Supporters said the state would borrow the $2 billion over 20 years, and repay it over 30 years without a tax increase, with estimated interest costs ranging from $900 million to $1.2 billion.
The Ohio Constitution prohibits the state from spending more than 5 percent of its general revenue fund, plus lottery profits, on repaying debt. Issue 1 exempts the Third Frontier and the $150 million for improvements to industrial and commercial sites from that cap.
Opponents derided the Third Frontier as "corporate welfare,'' saying that universities and high-tech firms will benefit from the flow of public dollars.
David Zanotti, president of the Ohio Roundtable, a nonprofit group often aligned with conservative ideals, said Mr. Taft was absent from the debate on Issue 1 "by design" and the proposal was the governor's idea from "the very beginning."
He said Issue 1's "overwhelming" campaign budget of $2.4 million helped his opponents convince voters to support it.
Before the passage of Issue 1, Mr. Johnson said he didn't question whether Mr. Taft could effectively govern in the face of scandal. "I already knew that. After the scandals broke, he asked the General Assembly to do this. He took a bold veto on the stem-cell piece,'' said Mr. Johnson, referring to Mr. Taft's line-item veto of a provision in the state budget that would have prohibited Third Frontier funds from being used for all embryonic stem-cell research.
House Democratic Leader Chris Redfern said that "removing Bob Taft's face from [the issue] was key to its success."
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