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State legislators have their work cut out for them; Ohio's future is at stake



Published: Mon, April 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Ohio's General Assembly has an enormous amount of work to do, beginning today when it returns from its Easter break.

Gov. Bob Taft has submitted and has been promoting aggressively his tax reform proposal that he says will open Ohio to outside investment by companies. Critics say the Taft plan, would shift the tax burden from high-income taxpayers (and small businesses) to middle class residents.

Taft's plan would cut individual income taxes by 21 percent, phase out the tax on equipment and machinery, eliminate the tax on corporate profits and add a new commercial activity tax.

"We've worked hard for a lot of initiatives over the years, but this is perhaps the most comprehensive, most ambitious initiative we've undertaken," Taft says of his tax plan.

It is perhaps the most ambitious overhaul of the state's tax policy in 70 years -- disregarding the institution of the state's graduated income tax in 1971, which was supposed to solve all the state's revenue problems. Obviously it didn't .

A dual challenge

The challenge facing the governor is reducing taxes in ways that will attract business to the state while maintaining enough revenue to fund state services, especially in education, an area that is equally important to attracting business to Ohio.

Democrats are saying the Taft plan won't get the job done, and Sens. Eric Fingerhut of Cleveland and Marc Dann of Liberty, have presented what they call their Growth and Reform Initiative.

The Democrats are facing an uphill battle.

The Taft administration has worked hard to get support from across the state and in Columbus for his proposals, which he has linked to his Third Frontier initiative to attract high-tech and biomedical industries to the state.

Taft, House Speaker Jon Husted and Senate President Bill Harris are all Republicans. If they wanted to, they could push through a plan, ignoring Democratic criticism.

And if their plan is the best, that's what they should do. But they must realize that Republicans can no longer shift the blame for the state's revenue and spending problems and its economic malaise to anyone else.

The party is firmly in control of the state. The only statewide Democratic officerholder left is one Supreme Court justice.

Taft, Husted and Harris have the power to change the face of Ohio. And because they do, the future not only of the state, but of their party, will be tied to their success, or lack thereof.

Time is short. The House is expected to act by mid-month. The Senate by the end of the month. And the conference committee will do its work in June.

April could be one of the most interesting and important legislative months in the state's recent history.




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