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How far will Republicans go to avoid talking about taxes?



Published: Tue, September 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Here's a question Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and the Republican leadership in the General Assembly never imagined they would be asking themselves: Where are we going to find the hundreds of millions of dollars the Supreme Court is requiring us to spend on public education, over and above the $1.4 billion increase we've already approved?

The reason they didn't ponder such a question is that when they developed a funding plan for Ohio's public primary and secondary schools, they were confident that the Supreme Court would find that it met the constitutional requirement for a thorough and efficient education for all Ohio's children.

If, on the other hand, a majority of the justices concluded that the funding plan fell short of the constitutional standard, Taft and his colleagues in the House and Senate were anticipating going back to the drawing board.

What they did not expect was for the high court to, in effect, order them to spend an additional sum of money over the next five years. But that's what a front page story in last Wednesday's Cleveland Plain Dealer revealed.

Referring to a draft majority opinion, the Plain Dealer said the justices want the state to spend more on poor school districts to close the academic gap with wealthier ones. The new scheme would require an allocation of $95 million this year, $205 million next year -- for a total biennium expenditure of $295 million -- and as much as $500 million in succeeding years.

Hence the question: Where will the governor and the Republican-dominated legislature find the money?

The answer, based on their refusal to give serious consideration to an education tax proposal, is that the biennium budget will once again be targeted. That means all non-mandated spending, such as state support for higher education, will again feel the cut of the paring knife.

Crippling: That would be disastrous for the state of Ohio, which has already been crippled as a result of diverting more than $1 billion for public K-12 education. The state's colleges and universities were forced to raise tuition to make up for the loss of state dollars, the Ohio Department of Transportation is having to reassess its construction program and the Ohio Department of Development has had to tread water.

This isn't how a major state should operate.

While talk of a tax increase carries great political risk, there are times when elected officials must set aside their personal agendas for the good of the community. Such a time may be coming.

The governor and the Republican leadership should shelve their "rob Peter to pay Paul" strategy and begin a serious discussion about new sources of revenue, including a tax for public education.




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