FINDLAY - Gov. Bob Taft was in town yesterday to talk with business leaders about tort reform and other issues that affect their bottom line, but he got a barrage of questions about issues like school funding, smoking bans, and the duplication of local government.
Scott Malaney, president and chief executive officer of the Blanchard Valley Health Association, told the governor he was baffled by Ohio's layers of local government - township, city, and county. The hospital, he said, had an interesting time "navigating those three levels of government" when it was purchasing some land just outside the city recently.
"There's a lot of duplication of effort in a real small geography," Mr. Malaney said. "... How long can we afford to do that?"
The governor drew laughter as he said, "You're right. We have a lot of government."
He suggested Mr. Malaney discuss the matter with his state legislators.
Mr. Malaney also raised the issue of school funding and questioned how districts like Findlay were expected to come up with the money to update their aging school buildings and pay the operating expenses.
The Findlay City Schools district would be eligible for only about 11 cents on the dollar if it worked with the Ohio School Facilities Commission to build new schools and it would have to make improvements that it didn't feel were necessary, Mr. Malaney said.
Governor Taft conceded that there were "some serious flaws" in Ohio's current school funding
system, but gave little hope that things would change soon.
"We want to improve, but I wouldn't expect a bonanza of new funding for schools," he said.
Another hot issue in Findlay - a proposed smoking ban - also came up.
Findlay City Council President Bob Schuck told the governor some businesses fear they will experience what's happened in Toledo since smoking was banned in bars and restaurants - some customers go outside the city limits to eat and drink. Would he consider a statewide smoking ban? Mr. Schuck asked.
Governor Taft said he is a proponent of helping Ohioans get healthier, but right now, no such legislation is pending, and he would not expect the legislature to tackle that anytime soon.
"I think they've got enough problems down in Columbus," he said. "I don't think they want to wrestle with that right now, so good luck."
The governor commended business and community leaders for working together to attract and retain business and industry in Hancock County. The county has one of the state's lowest unemployment rates and Findlay has been in the top 10 small towns for business expansion for a decade, he said.
"That really helps the state," Governor Taft said.
He urged local officials to write to their legislators in support of a comprehensive tort reform bill that passed the Senate last week that would cap pain, suffering, and other noneconomic damages at $1 million per incident in catastrophic cases and at $500,000 in less serious cases.
The bill, he said, would compensate injured parties but do so without bankrupting small businesses.