OHIO LEGISLATURE Valley lawmakers oppose budget that links slots to sales tax
The Republican budget plan tries to deceive the public, local Democrats say.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
COLUMBUS -- Most state legislators from the Mahoning Valley say they don't support a state budget proposal that includes a temporary sales tax increase and a referendum to legalize video slot machines because the package fails to address the state's long-term financial viability.
The Ohio House is expected to vote on the budget proposed by House Republican leadership as early as today. It also needs to be approved by the Senate, and signed into law by the governor.
The Republican plan calls for a temporary 1-cent increase in the 5-cent state sales tax for two years and expands it to additional services. The sales tax would be eliminated after one year if voters in November agree to legalize video slot machines at the state's seven horse racing tracks.
"The Republicans are trying to deceive the public by tying the two issues together," said state Rep. John Boccieri of New Middletown, House assistant minority whip. "They're making it look like you're getting a chance to cut taxes when you're actually voting for" slot machines.
The sales tax would generate about $1.2 billion annually while the slot machines would raise about $400 million to $700 million a year. The Republican plan also calls for $1.2 billion in budget cuts, and maintains local government funding at its present amount. Earlier Republican proposals call for major cuts to that fund.
Unless significant changes are made to the Republican plan, it has little to no chance of passing in the House, said Boccieri, D-61st.
House Democratic leaders were told Tuesday by Republican leaders that they could only count on the support of 35 GOP House members, Boccieri said, and were seeking the support of Democrats to get a 50-vote majority. Boccieri didn't know of any Democrats in favor of the plan.
But state Rep. Sylvester D. Patton Jr. of Youngstown, a member of the House Finance Committee who was heavily involved in negotiating budget provisions, says he may vote for the package.
"In good faith, I could justify voting in favor of it, but there are enough negatives in there, I could vote against it," said Patton, D-60th. "I hate to raise the sales tax, but the problem is we have a lack of revenue. We were able to get some good things into a bad bill. We all have to make tough decisions instead of playing politics."
Also, Patton, a member of the Black Democratic Caucus, said the group met privately with House Speaker Larry Householder to discuss getting their votes for the budget. Patton said about seven caucus members will probably vote for the budget.
Proposal keeps changing
State Rep. Kenneth A. Carano of Austintown, D-59th, said Householder is going to have to continue to wheel and deal if this proposal has any chance of passing. Most House members have not seen a finalized proposal, and say there is a good chance they won't until minutes before a vote because the package is constantly changing.
Carano, one of the most vocal supporters of legalized gambling, said he cannot support the Republican budget proposal even though it includes a referendum for slot machines.
"There are some good things there, but overall, it's devastating to senior citizens, education and the middle class," he said.
Democrats oppose the Republican plan because it calls for a change in how enrollment at primary and secondary schools is counted that they say will result in a cut to school funding of about $350 million annually beginning in 2005, and includes cuts to human services and higher education.
Taft veto threat
Another pressing concern is Gov. Bob Taft has said he will veto the video slot provision. State Rep. Charles Blasdel of East Liverpool, R-1st, said he was surprised to hear that because the governor told him last week that the Legislature should put the issue on the ballot.
If House Republicans can't even get a majority of their caucus to vote for the budget proposal, Boccieri says it will be impossible to get a two-thirds majority to override a veto on the slot machines.
Blasdel wouldn't say if he would vote for the budget proposal, but has reservations about a temporary sales tax. Blasdel also said additional cuts to the state budget need to be made.
Blasdel doesn't have a problem placing the video slot referendum on the November ballot.
Dann and Hagan
State Sens. Marc Dann of Liberty, D-32nd, and Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, said they would not vote for this proposal should it make it over to the Senate in its current form. Dann saying connecting the sales tax with gambling was "political blackmail." Hagan said Republicans are trying to fool people by making it look like they will reduce taxes if the gambling initiative passes.
Dann and Hagan say now is the ideal time to consider real tax reform. Instead of raising the sales tax, which they say hurts low-income and middle-class people, the Legislature should consider an overhaul of the income tax system to more fairly tax the rich and corporations and provide property tax relief.