COLUMBUS - The Republican president of the Ohio Senate yesterday urged Gov. Ted Strickland to ask voters whether they want slot machines to help fund state government.
But the Democratic governor and Democratic speaker of the House both flatly rejected the idea, and the standoff over the next two-year budget showed little sign of thawing.
In a letter to the governor, Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland) for the first time officially called for a Nov. 3 ballot issue on a constitutional amendment authorizing up to seven slots parlors.
"We know that litigation is a certainty should your proposal be enacted, subjecting the state to legal wrangling and potentially tying up funding for schools in the courts," he wrote. "A voter-approved constitutional amendment is not subject to such legal challenges."
The licenses for those parlors would be competitively bid under Mr. Harris' proposal, meaning Toledo's Raceway Park and the six other horse-racing tracks would not be guaranteed sites.
Under Mr. Strickland's plan, which would be approved by lawmakers rather than voters, the slots parlors would be limited to tracks where gambling already occurs.
"We cannot budget a ballot initiative, because there is absolutely no guarantee of the passage of that initiative," said Mr. Strickland.
After meeting with Mr. Harris, Speaker Armond Budish (D., Beachwood) challenged a six-member House-Senate conference committee charged with crafting a budget compromise to begin meeting today to publicly debate and vote on Mr. Strickland's slots proposal.
"Under the Republican plan, it appears that any location would be fair game [for gambling]," he said. "We could see gambling expanded to shopping malls, entertainment areas, Cedar Point, to any location where families with children go."
Faced with a gaping $3.2 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years, Mr. Strickland has urged the General Assembly to directly approve his slots plan to generate $933 million.
If it chose to, the General Assembly could, with a three-fifths majority vote in each chamber, bypass the governor and place the question on the ballot. A joint resolution does not need the governor's signature.
Any slots question on the ballot probably would compete with a separate proposal being pushed by casino interests to authorize four Las Vegas-style casinos, complete with table games and slot machines, at specific locations in Toledo, Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.
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