The governor says some of his fellow Republicans are not in the 'real world.'
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
COLUMBUS -- Realizing he is facing a huge obstacle to get the state Legislature to increase "sin taxes" on alcohol and cigarettes to balance the state's budget, Gov. Bob Taft said he could live with an alternative plan to temporarily increase the state sales tax by 1 percent.
But in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Vindicator, the Republican governor said the GOP-controlled state Legislature has shown no interest in raising any kind of taxes and is somewhat doubtful a proposal by some Republicans to temporarily increase the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent would be approved.
"All they're doing is saying, 'We don't want to raise revenue, and we don't want you to cut,'" Taft said. "That's nice in the unreal world, but we're here in the real world. I think they're having a problem facing up to the reality of the circumstances that we're facing."
Although Taft specifically said during the interview that he was not frustrated with strong resistance to his sin tax plan, which would raise $159 million during the next four months by doubling the alcohol tax and adding 55 cents a pack in taxes to cigarettes, he repeatedly criticized the House as being inflexible when it comes to taxes.
As a longer-term solution to the state's budget problems, Taft wants the Legislature to apply the state's 5 percent sales tax to additional services including entertainment tickets, dry cleaning, local telephone service and real estate commissions.
"We realize it will be tough to get a lot of these sales tax broadenings through the Legislature," Taft said.
Taft said the state Senate is more willing to listen to his proposals but is waiting to see what the House will do.
"A number of House members are saying, 'Let the governor make the cuts and we'll blame it on him. I don't have to raise taxes,'" he said. "I don't think that's the right way to go for the state, but it may happen. That may happen."
If nothing is done by March 1, Taft said he will be left with no other choice but to cut state funding to schools and universities. That would mean a $1 million loss for Youngstown State University, and about $6 million for school districts in Mahoning and Trumbull counties combined.
"We prefer not to do this," Taft said. "We don't think it's a good thing to do. But the last thing that's left is schools and colleges. There's nowhere else to cut. If [the Legislature] is not willing to raise sin taxes now, they're just digging the hole deeper."
Cutting aid to schools and universities would cause severe hardships on a number of people, Taft said.
"It could put pressure on universities' tuitions, and it could put pressure on property taxes," he said. "I don't know how schools will adjust or react in terms of saving money, but they're going to have to adjust their budgets. We'll impair and impede the significant progress we've started to show in raising academic achievement levels. If universities raise tuition, it could have an adverse impact on the number of kids who go to college."
State Rep. Charles Blasdel of East Liverpool, R-1st, said that he cannot go along with Taft's tax proposal, and that further cuts are needed. Taft has cut about $1 billion from the budget in the past two years.
"No one's disputing we have a budget crisis, but he just introduced a budget that called for a 10-percent spending increase," Blasdel said. "It's tough for us to swallow that."