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Published: Thursday, 10/19/2006

Issue 3 ad doesn't tell whole story

This ad by the Vote Yes on Issue 3 Committee promotes the establishment of gambling to help fund college scholarships. This ad by the Vote Yes on Issue 3 Committee promotes the establishment of gambling to help fund college scholarships.

Each Thursday preceding the Nov. 7 election, Blade politics writer Jim Tankersley and WTVG's Bill Hormann team up to analyze candidates' campaign ads and check them for accuracy.

The ads: A series of spots promoting Issue 3 on the fall statewide ballot.

The sponsor: "Learn and Earn," a committee promoting the issue.

The claims: That Issue 3 will provide "almost a billion dollars" in annual scholarship money to help Ohio students pay rapidly escalating college tuition costs.

Fact-check: Ah, issue ads. Unlike candidate ads, they rarely attack anyone. They're so happy. And in the case of Issue 3, they're so omnipresent.

As of last week, Learn and Earn had dropped some $1.3 million onto Toledo airwaves. That's more than any single candidate or committee on the fall ballot, and it's close to the $1.7 million that was reserved for Ohio's hot U.S. Senate race.

The Learn and Earn ads spend a lot of time touting what backers call the issue's big payoff: college scholarships. There are some quibbles with the math there - Learn and Earn revised the claimed payout from "almost a billion" to $850 million in more recent ads; a state analysis claims it's more like $324 million.

But the bigger dilemma is what the spots don't talk much about, which is where the scholarship money would come from.

Issue 3 would legalize, via the Ohio Constitution, up to 31,500 slot machines in the state. It would stipulate where they could be: seven racetracks, including Toledo's Raceway Park on Alexis Road, and two other sites in Cleveland.

The scholarship money, in other words, comes from gambling revenue.

Thirty percent would go to qualifying high school students who attend in-state colleges. Another 15 percent would go to economic development projects. As the ads say, there are no new taxes involved.

A Learn and Earn spokesman, Mike Caputo, says the committee isn't hiding Issue 3's slots component, which shows up in newspaper articles and (if you look hard enough) on www.ohiolearnandearn.com.

"Everybody's covering this thing, warts and all," Mr. Caputo says. "Just because we don't put it into a very brief ad ... that's not a valid criticism."

Judge for yourself. Just know this: For all the smiling, dare we say happy, kids on TV, Issue 3 is about a choice.

Do voters want to allow slot-machine gambling that would partially fund college scholarships?

-Jim Tankersley

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