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Published: Wednesday, 3/21/2001

Speaker thinks top court will favor his school plan

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - House Speaker Larry Householder said he believes the Ohio Supreme Court could order the General Assembly to adopt his plan to boost state spending on public schools by $3.2 billion over the next two years.

Mr. Householder made the brief comment yesterday, a day after he pledged to work with Governor Taft and Senate President Richard Finan (R., Evendale) to “harmonize” their three competing plans.

Aides said the speaker is committed to that effort, but his comment may be another sign that the high-stakes tug-of-war among the three branches of government - executive, legislative, and judicial - may be heading for a constitutional showdown.

Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas, considered the architect of the court's two 4-3 decisions since 1997 declaring the school-funding system unconstitutional, said he doesn't view Mr. Householder's comment as unusual.

“The court has a wide range of options, one of which is to develop a plan and have it implemented. I don't know if there is any active discussion of what might be happening. We are waiting to see what the General Assembly will do by June 15,” Justice Douglas said.

The date is the deadline for legislators to submit a plan to the high court, which has scheduled oral arguments for June 20. The timetable has raised the issue of whether the Supreme Court could issue a quick decision ordering the legislature to set up a system before the July 1 start of the new two-year state budget.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer said after his State of the Judiciary speech to a House-Senate session yesterday that he would not comment on whether the high court has the power to order the legislature to increase per-pupil funding.

“I believe I, as a justice of the Supreme Court, should not comment on a case that is pending. Each justice has to speak for themselves,” said Chief Justice Moyer, who has been in the minority in the two school-funding decisions.

Kevin Kellems, Mr. Taft's press secretary, said the governor is committed to shaping a plan with Mr. Householder and Mr. Finan.

“The court has broad discretion and a great interest in improving education. It would require a better crystal ball than I have to predict with accuracy future statements from the court,” he said.

On March 12, Mr. Householder rolled out a plan to increase per-pupil funding from $4,294 this year to $5,560 in the 2003-2003 school year. The proposal would boost spending on special education.

After Mr. Taft vowed on Monday to veto any bill to allow horse-racing tracks to install video gambling machines - revenue which Mr. Householder had counted on to help fund his plan - the speaker said he would not push forward with a vote in the House until a compromise plan is established.

But Mr. Householder's remarks yesterday were consistent with his prior statements that only his plan would pass constitutional muster.

Legal scholars have debated how much power the high court has in ordering the legislature to comply with its order to come up with a funding system that relies less on local real-estate taxes.

The 4-3 court majority has said the current system causes inequities between property-rich and poor districts.

David Mayer, a professor of history and law at Capital University, has said the 4-3 majority has misinterpreted the state constitution that mandates a “thorough and efficient system of [public] schools throughout the state.”

Dr. Mayer said the provision identifies the purpose for which the General Assembly can levy taxes - and does not mandate the legislators to “provide a particular kind of public school system.”

But Louis Jacobs, a professor of law at Ohio State University, has said legislators are “bound by both oath and our separation-of-powers doctrine” to comply with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the constitution.

The coalition of school districts that sued the state in 1991 over its school-funding system has asked the high court to order the legislature to increase the basic funding it guarantees all school districts.

So far, the 4-3 majority on the high court has not heeded that call.

In another move on the school-funding front, state Sen. Dan Brady (D., Cleveland) said he will introduce a bill soon to “pool” some local business property taxes and redistribute them to poorer school districts.

Mr. Brady said his plan calls for a statewide vote in November to impose a 20-mill statewide property tax levy, and an equal reduction in local commercial and industrial property taxes.

“My intent is to pool the growth in commercial and industrial property taxes in order to reduce funding inequities between school districts and for local school districts to share tangible personal property taxes in the future,” Mr. Brady said.



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