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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

OHIO BUDGET

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS A former Colorado legislator who describes himself as a conservative Republican and deficit hawk warned Ohio yesterday about the potential dangers of a constitutional amendment restricting state spending.

Colorado has had budget growth caps in place since 1992.

It was sold as an easy fix, said Brad Young, ex-chief of Colorado s Joint Budget Committee and House Appropriations Committee.

It has great sound bites, Mr. Young said. Everybody wants to cut spending and reduce taxes. It was sold as something that magically creates accountability, eliminates waste, and forces the legislature to set the right priorities. It simply doesn t do those things. [The amendment] is a Trojan horse.

Voters backed Colorado s version after three times on the ballot. As a result, opponents said Colorado dropped from 37th to 50th among states in spending for K-12 education and from 26th to last in teacher salaries.

This year voters will consider an initiative that would put the spending limitation on hold for five years to allow some replenishment of public service funds.

A coalition led by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican candidate for governor in 2006, is conducting a petition drive for its version of a spending-cap amendment for the November ballot.

Barring an emergency declaration from the governor, the amendment would limit growth in annual state spending to the inflation rate plus an adjustment for population growth, or 3.5 percent, whichever is greater.

Three-fifths of the members of the Senate and House would have to approve any spending increase above the limit and then a majority of voters would have to agree at the polls.

Mr. Blackwell said he expects to have enough signatures well before the August deadline to put the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot. While Gov. Bob Taft and Republican leaders point to the budget debate in Columbus as an example of fiscal frugality, Mr. Blackwell accused them of breaking promises by proposing to make permanent half of a temporary penny-on-the-dollar sales tax surcharge that was set to expire June 30.

Do the math, he said. When you look at the tax increases, which number some $4.2 billion, versus the tax decreases or cuts, which are in the neighborhood of $1.9 billion, that s a net tax increase. We are witnessing a budget that is rife with a legion of broken promises and wooden-headed fiscal policies.

More than 100 social service organizations, religious groups, government agencies, labor unions, and civic groups have joined forces to establish the Coalition for Ohio s Future to fight the amendment.

John Corlett of the Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions said no decisions have been made on whether to create a political action committee to fight the amendment at the polls or to hire lawyers to challenge petition signatures to keep it from getting there.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.com,or 614-221-0496.



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