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Ohio governor hopefuls mull sales tax

COLUMBUS - The three statewide officials expected to vie for the Republican nomination for Ohio governor in 2006 agreed yesterday that the state s economy would be better off without the burden of an added penny-on-the-dollar sales tax.

But they disagreed over whether a initiative petition effort led by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to force lawmakers to repeal the tax before its scheduled sunset on July 1, 2005, was a good idea.

“We know this is a temporary tax, which will end by statute,” State Auditor Betty Montgomery said. “What we do by doing a repeal [is] you ve gained six-months advantage and caused budget chaos. All of these entities that are reliant on these tax dollars have set their budgets, have entered into contracts, [and] have engaged and promised services.”

Mr. Blackwell defended the initiative that, once counties have certified the petitions, would give the General Assembly four months to roll back the state sales tax 1 cent to the nickel on a dollar that existed before July 1, 2003. If it fails to do so, another petition drive could place the issue on the ballot in November so that voters could do it.

“At the end of the fiscal year 2003, we ended with 5 percent growth in tax revenue,” he said. “We could have increased state government spending - consistent with inflation, economic growth, and population growth - at about 5 percent without imposing a 20 percent increase in the state sales tax.

“This is not Ken Blackwell,” he said. “This is a citizen-driven initiative, and the legislature can ignore it if they want to, but the reality is that folks have said, Enough is enough, and Get back to work. ”

Attorney General Jim Petro defended both sides of the issue, saying he would not substitute his judgment for that of legislators who used the temporary sales tax to ensure the two-year, $49 billion budget would balance.

“It will be rescinded on July 1, 2005, and that s good,” he said. “It would be good to rescind it earlier, and I hope those things can be done and achieved within the framework of the budget. There have to be answers here as to how we are going to balance the budget ... The state cannot have a budget deficit.”

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