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Published: Wednesday, 5/2/2012

Ohio Senate adjusts record law

Action clarifies use of public documents by new jobs agency

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Senate overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to take the next step of fully empowering its fledgling private economic development corporation to take over the state's job-creation efforts.

But first the chamber voted to ensure Ohio didn't take another step backward by shielding more government records from public view. Although the bill's sponsor, Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), said there was no intent to erode Ohio's public records law, Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Ohio Newspaper Association had raised concerns that would have been the result.

"This is an economic development bill," Mr. Wagoner said. "This isn't a public records bill, and our intention is not to expand public records exceptions. … It's simply to ensure that JobsOhio receives the same public records protection that is currently received in the Ohio Department of Development."

The idea was to protect a JobsOhio document legally shielded from public review from indirectly becoming public if it is shared with another state agency. But Mr. DeWine and newspapers had worried the language could be interpreted as making a previously public document from another government agency private if it is shared with JobsOhio.

"What's really good about this amendment is that it goes back to the original JobsOhio statute and clarifies language there, so there's no ambiguity," said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association. "There can be no end run around public records law by having JobsOhio touch a record."

Senate Bill 314 now goes to the House, which has already approved a variation of the same thing. Early last year, lawmakers voted to create JobsOhio, a private, nonprofit corporation that would essentially negotiate tax breaks, loans, and other job-creation incentives with businesses that would presumably be signed off on by what would be left of the current state Department of Development.

While JobsOhio is up and running, its lifeblood, the profit stream from Ohio's lucrative liquor sales operation, has yet to begin to flow. A court challenge to the constitutionality of the unusual arrangement is pending.

JobsOhio has agreed to pay $1.4 billion upfront to the state to essentially lease future profits from the wholesale liquor business while the state Department of Commerce continues to run it. Of the purchase price, $500 million is slated to go to the state's general fund.

The bill approved Tuesday realigns the functions of the current Department of Development, transfers some of them to JobsOhio, and rechristens the leaner state department as the Development Services Agency.

It also creates a new tourism fund that would allow travel and tourism marketing agencies to receive a return on their investment. Under the five-year pilot program beginning in 2014, they would get a piece of increased sales tax collections generated by their efforts -- capped at $10 million. The current state budget provides $5 million for tourism marketing while the budget before that held nothing.

"I want to be clear,'" said Sen. Capri Cafaro (D., Hubbard). "This is not a tax increase at all. It's just, rather, the increase in revenues, year on year, by current taxes that are already levied. … This doesn't have anything to do with the [local] bed taxes."



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