The Ohio Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling that the plan to fund public primary and secondary education passes constitutional muster was a bittersweet victory for Republican Gov. Bob Taft and the Republican dominated General Assembly. But considering the money that the court is requiring the state to spend, the victory is more bitter than sweet.
To be sure, the decade-old school funding case is over and the Supreme Court will no longer second-guess the governor and the legislature. But there wasn't any popping of champagne corks in Columbus last week. Why? Because what the four Republican justices did was toss a political hot potato to the General Assembly's GOP leadership.
Going into a statewide election in 2002, Gov. Taft, Senate President Richard Finan and House Speaker Larry Householder would rather not answer the looming question: Where will the $1.24 billion in additional annual spending come from?
Indeed, when asked that question by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, here's how Finan responded: "Let the court figure that out."
Handle with care: No, the Ohio Supreme Court is not going to let the governor and the General Assembly off the hook by identifying a funding source. That is the job of the executive and legislative branches of government. And it is a job they should handle with great care.
We aren't inspired by Finan's reaction to the ruling: "The Ohio General Assembly, as far as the Ohio Senate is concerned, is not going to raise taxes."
So if a tax increase is not even a topic for discussion, that leaves the state's $1 billion rainy-day fund or the already bare-bones state operating budget.
As we have argued on several occasions, making further cuts in the biennium budget would amount to robbing Peter to pay Paul. The problem of funding primary and secondary education to the level established by the Supreme Court must not be solved by creating other problems.
And cutting the state's discretionary spending by 42 percent would create major problems. Higher education has already taken a major hit in the first round of budget cuts. Decimating Ohio's public colleges and universities would be short-sighted and irresponsible.
Work force: In the competitive global economy, Ohio needs a college-educated work force. It doesn't make sense to boost kindergarten through 12th grade and then undermine higher education.
But it isn't only the colleges and universities that would suffer if the treasury were raided: the state's job-creation and retention efforts would be undermined, social services would be affected and even bridge construction and repair would have to be scaled back.
The Supreme Court ruling is a test of leadership for the governor and the GOP-dominated legislature.