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Published: 4/30/2008

Ohio's Fisher urges OK of Great Lakes compact

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Fisher Fisher
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COLUMBUS - Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher left nothing to chance yesterday as he spoke to the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"I want to make it perfectly clear," he said. "Under no circumstances do I want to divert a drop of water from the Great Lakes to any other state . ... There is no remote possibility. There is no distant future. Never as long as I, my children, my grandchildren, or their children are alive will this ever happen."

The comment brought laughs, but the lieutenant governor who doubles as state development director was only half-joking.

A month ago, his comments at an economic development forum in Toledo led to a statewide backlash when he left the door open for possible diversion of Great Lakes water to parched areas of the country.

He used yesterday's comments to call again for ratification of the multistate Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact designed, in part, to discourage such diversions. He called the lakes "a uniquely extraordinary asset, arguably the single most important asset our state has."

It's an asset the state should use to its advantage, he said.

"Why not bring and develop an industry cluster based on companies that deal with safe, clean water?" he asked. "It seems to me that we need to bring not only more companies that take advantage of the shipping routes, but also companies that deal with water in general."

The compact, already approved by four of eight Great Lakes states, is stuck in the Ohio General Assembly. The version ratified in other states matches what was twice overwhelmingly passed in the House, but it is competing with a less restrictive version in the Senate.

About 38 chamber members attended the group's annual Columbus session, meeting with lawmakers, state officials, and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce on issues most important to Ohio business.

The lieutenant governor, however, declined to state whether he or Gov. Ted Strickland would support a proposed ballot issue requiring employers with at least 25 workers to offer employees at least seven days of paid sick leave each year to care for their health or that of their children and parents.

The deadline for the General Assembly to act on the proposal as submitted via initiative petition will pass next week, opening the door for the issue's mostly labor and health organization backers to take the issue directly to voters.

"The governor and I both believe that the way to deal with that issue is not through the ballot but through some sort of legislative compromise," Mr. Fisher said.

"We are doing everything we can to encourage both the opponents and the proponents of this idea to come together."

That's not what Benjamin T. Brown, vice president of Brooks Insurance Agency in Toledo, wanted to hear.

He noted that he's heard some businesses threaten to move to Michigan if the mandate passes, either through the General Assembly or via the ballot.

"We would be the first state in the country to have such a law," he said. "I think that would send a red flag out that Ohio is not open for business."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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