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Published: Friday, 5/19/2006

Supporters decry deal on tax-limitation issue

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - "Not fair," said Nancy Wheeler, one of hundreds of thousands of registered voters in Ohio who signed petitions favoring a constitutional amendment setting spending limits for government.

Republican legislative leaders have struck a deal with the honorary chairman of the Tax Expenditure Limitation campaign, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, that is expected to lead to the removal of that amendment from the ballot.

This could occur despite the fact that the petitions had already been certified for the Nov. 7 ballot and Mr. Blackwell had spent months campaigning on it in his bid to become Ohio's next governor.

Lawmakers plan to pass a less restrictive state law this week that would apply to the state's general tax revenue fund but not state fees, capital bonds, local governments, and school districts. It would limit annual growth in the state's general revenue fund to 3.5 percent, or the rate of inflation adjusted for population growth, whichever is greater.

"If there were enough signatures, it should be on the ballot," said Mrs. Wheeler, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mother from Celina. "There's too many deals being made. You have to wonder what's going on behind our backs. It's time somebody stood up for the people."

A union construction worker from Toledo, who wished not to be identified, signed the petition along with his wife last year.

"I don't like it at all," he said. "I don't like the idea that it only limits state government ... I don't like the idea of having four people make a decision for me. A vote of the people is better."

Nothing in current law or the Ohio Constitution, short of a court order, permits the removal of a citizen-driven issue from the state ballot. Republican lawmakers plan to pass a law that authorizes a committee that launched a petition effort to change its mind.

In this case, the four-member Citizens for Tax Reform committee, which includes Akron charter school magnate David Brennan, could ask for the TEL to be withdrawn. Mr. Blackwell has said he would encourage the committee to withdraw the ballot issue if the General Assembly lives up to its part of the bargain next week before recessing for the summer.

"Since petitioners are the ones that initiate it and give it life, they're the ones that should have the authority to remove it," House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said when announcing the deal.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio has been a vocal opponent of the TEL, which critics contend is badly worded and could lead to the failure of more school levies, endanger social service safety nets, and hamper government's ability to put together economic development packages.

But the league's elections specialist, Peg Rosenfeld, said she's wary of a bill that would allow four people to wipe away the signatures of many.

"There were a few hundred thousand people who said they wanted to vote on this," she said. "I guess that doesn't count. If I were one of those people, I would be very angry."

She and Catherine Turcer, of government watchdog Ohio Citizen Action, also questioned the idea of changing the rules in midstream.

"If it's fatally flawed, what do you do except remove it from the ballot?" asked Ms. Turcer. "On the other hand, you have a horrible situation where 300,000 people expect this to be on the ballot."

Scott Borgemenke, Mr. Husted's chief of staff, said Ohioans shouldn't believe such a massive undertaking as the TEL is truly a citizen-driven effort.

"That's just not what's happening in Ohio," he said. "This makes it sound like it's Grandma and the neighborhood gathering 328,000 signatures. This is about people who are paying somebody to do it."

Joyce Momenee, a 68-year-old Maumee resident, remembered signing the petition at the city's Fourth of July celebration last year. "I wouldn't like it. They spend way too much money," she said when told about the plan to substitute a scaled-back state law for the broader ballot issue she literally signed on to.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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