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Published: Wednesday, 7/2/2003

Lawmakers' tour decries tax techniques

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - Calling the state's new sales tax a “massive job killer,” three local legislators toured northwest Ohio yesterday to inform area residents that there were other options.

State Reps. Stephen Buehrer (R., Delta) and Mike Gilb (R., Findlay) joined State Sen. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon) on the daylong tour targeting local media outlets. The point of their visit was twofold, Mr. Wachtmann said. One, to inform the more rural areas of the decisions being made in Columbus and two, to let people know the penny-on-the-dollar tax hike was not necessary to balance the budget.

“You cannot tax and spend your way into prosperity,” the senator said. “What we're doing, unfortunately what the Republican majority is doing, is taxing and spending our way into one of the largest tax rates in the region.”

Gov. Bob Taft signed into law a $49 billion budget for 2004 and 2005 that temporarily increases the state sales tax to 6 percent as of yesterday. In counties that already have tacked on additional sales tax, the percentage is even higher.

The Lucas County rate increased to 7.25 percent. The rate in Hancock County jumped to 6.75 percent.

Opponents of the tax fear that companies looking to invest in Ohio may decide to go elsewhere to avoid higher taxes. They also fear that small businesses will have to downsize as raw materials go up in price because of new taxes. All that equates to a loss of jobs, opponents said.

The legislators, who started their tour in Findlay, said that as residents begin feeling the effects of the increase, they would start to demand answers. The three men said their efforts throughout the process to initiate reforms were thwarted - reforms that they feel could have prevented the tax increase.

In particular, Mr. Buehrer mentioned proposed reforms to the civil service system, which would allow governmental agencies to negotiate cutting back hours of non-exempted employees rather than eliminating positions to save money.

Instead, the state should have kept its coffers closed to organizations and agencies looking for more money, they said.

“Our proposal was to say no to everybody who wanted increased spending because we couldn't afford it,” Mr. Wachtmann said.

That proposal contradicted one of the governor's priorities to increase funding for K-12 and higher education.

His Third Frontier plan, which promotes high-tech industry in Ohio, needs a trained work force, said Orest Holubec, the governor's press secretary.

“The governor sees education as the engine of our economy,” he said, pointing out that most institutional agencies did not get budget increases.

The lawmakers traveled from Findlay to cities in Putnam, Van Wert, Paulding, Defiance, Williams, Fulton, and Henry counties.

Along the way, they warned that politicians who say the tax is temporary are “lying.”



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