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Published: Wednesday, 3/24/2004

Senate candidate would bypass vote for high-tech aid

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Gov. Bob Taft's proposed $500 million bond issue for high-tech investment was defeated by voters in November, but state Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland) bounced back yesterday with a $2.5 billion bond issue that bypasses voters.

The House Finance Committee, meanwhile, began hearings on a Republican proposal to ask voters in November to approve $850 million in borrowing for investment in agriculture, manufacturing, and biotechnology.

"Issue One failed, unfortunately," Mr. Fingerhut said. "I have waited in vain for Governor Taft to tell us what alternative vision he has. ... I listened to the State of the State address, and heard no plan for creating jobs in Ohio other than to create a new committee to study the problem."

Mr. Fingerhut, challenging Republican U.S. Sen. George Voinovich on Nov. 2, would avoid another ballot question by earmarking growth in liquor profits to pay the debt service on the $2.5 billion, 30-year bond issue.

The resulting fund would provide $250 million over 10 years, $50 million a year to each of five regions of the state. The idea is to create self-sustaining, revolving loan funds of $500 million in each region to invest in research at universities and private institutions or to help businesses update equipment.

Mr. Taft's proposal would have involved $50 million a year in outright grants for 10 years. The House Republican plan, sponsored by Rep. Jim Trakas (R., Independence), would earmark $500 million of its $850 million bond issue toward the governor's original plan.

The remaining $350 million in grants would be divided between manufacturing and agricultural investment in hopes of attracting more voter support.

"In addition to talking about future jobs, we should be talking about job retention and creation right now," said Mr. Trakas. "That's why we provide substantial additional dollars for agriculture and traditional manufacturing. To sell this to the public, it's not just an investment in great future jobs, but it helps to stabilize today's situation."

He called Mr. Fingerhut's plan to bypass voters by linking the fund to liquor profits "innovative." Ohio has lost 250,000 jobs in the last three years, 150,000 of them in manufacturing.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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