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Published: Wednesday, 2/5/2003

Taft seeks swift vote to enact tax raises

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The timeframe for legislative enactment of higher taxes on smokers and drinkers to help patch a $720 million hole in the state budget just got tighter.

That would give the state about eight days to approve the higher rates so Ohio can collect the added revenue beginning March 1. The plan counts on collecting $159 million from the increased taxes through June 30.

Speaker of the House Larry Householder (R., Glenford) called the timetable “extremely aggressive,” disappointing some Republicans who'll be asked to vote three times for higher taxes.

“When you're talking about 16 days before we have to have it on the governor's desk, that's not much time at all,” he said.

The short-term plan would increase the cigarette tax from 55 cents a pack to $1 and doubling alcohol taxes to $11.16 per 31-gallon barrel of beer, $2 per gallon of wine with at least 14 percent alcohol content, and $6.76 per gallon of liquor.

Meanwhile, Democrats called for the resignation of Mr. Taft's budget director, Tom Johnson, whose revenue projections have exceeded tax collections since October, contributing to the $750 million shortfall estimated for the fiscal year.

“Either they got misinformation or they're incompetent...,” said Senate Democratic leader Greg DiDonato (D., New Philadelphia). “There's something seriously wrong here.”

Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said the governor has full confidence in Mr. Johnson and his staff.

“This budget is not good news and this is a classic case of shooting the messenger,” he said.

Mr. Johnson told the House Finance Committee yesterday that he has a “high degree of confidence” in the projections in revenue growth including in the governor's proposal for 2004-05.

Mr. Taft has proposed a $2.3 billion mix of tax increases, including expansion of the sales tax base, elimination of some corporate exemptions, and requiring non-Ohioans who work here to pay Ohio's income tax. Add in the cigarette and alcohol taxes from the current budget fix and that number climbs to $3 billion.



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