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Published: Friday, 1/14/2005

GOP pair back limit on Ohio's spending

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Backing a proposal from Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, two Republican lawmakers said yesterday they plan to introduce measures to limit government spending and make it tougher to raise taxes.

If voters approve, the constitutional amendment would require at least a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate, and then a majority vote of Ohioans to increase state spending - if the increase is higher than the inflation rate plus the rate of population increase.

Mr. Blackwell, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2006, said: "We fundamentally believe what Patrick Henry believed; that constitutions are not vehicles for the government to restrain the people. To the contrary, constitutions are vehicles for the people to restrain government."

Federal funds and dollars the state spends on tax relief would not be counted in calculating the spending cap.

In 2003-2004, the cap would have been 2.5 percent and the state would have had to reduce spending by $5.8 billion, said John Corlett, a senior fellow with the Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions, a research group.

Mr. Blackwell's proposal "makes permanent the cuts to public services imposed during the bad budget years," Mr. Corlett said.

The spending restriction also would apply to local governments, requiring them to get voter approval to spend beyond the cap, increase taxes, or create a new tax.

Resolutions to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot will be introduced in weeks, said state Rep. Linda Reidelbach (R., Columbus) and state Sen. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana).

The spending limit would be waived if the governor declares an emergency, such as an enemy attack, civil disorder, a flood, drought, or other major storm.

It will be an "uphill battle" to get the House and Senate to place the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot, but Ohio's political climate is beginning to change, Mr. Jordan said.

Supporters of the proposal are preparing to collect the roughly 323,000 signatures of registered voters to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Gov. Bob Taft, who is expected to release his two-year budget plan shortly after the Feb. 8 State of the State address, has not taken a position on Mr. Blackwell's proposal, said Orest Holubec, the governor's press secretary.

"The governor would be cautious about an amendment that would be too restrictive," Mr. Holubec said.

House Minority Leader Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) said "fiscal discipline requires strong leadership - and a proposed constitutional amendment on state spending lacks it."

Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland) said Mr. Blackwell's proposal doesn't appear to "give the legislature any kind of flexibility to adjust to circumstances that happen beyond its control."

House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) hasn't taken a stance on Mr. Blackwell's proposal, said press secretary Karen Tabor.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com or

614-221-0496.



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