OHIO CONSTITUTION Conservatives support amendment on spending
Sen. Hagan of Youngstown says lawmakers' decisions are hard enough without the restrictions.
COLUMBUS -- Backers of an Ohio constitutional amendment unveiled Thursday to make it more difficult for lawmakers to increase state spending say limits are the best way to curb what they call "runaway" spending in state government.
"It's important to get a hold of state government spending," Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell said Thursday. Blackwell is a potential GOP candidate for governor in 2006.
"There is clear empirical evidence that state government spending is on a runaway nature," said Blackwell, who pointed out that state government spending has increased about 71 percent in the last 10 years. The state's two-year operating budget that runs through June is about $48 billion.
The proposed resolutions, to be offered by state Rep. Linda Reidelbach of suburban Columbus and state Sen. Jim Jordan of Urbana, both Republicans, would limit state spending growth to the rate of inflation plus the percentage of population change unless it's approved by a three-fifths vote of the Legislature and a majority of Ohioans at the ballot box.
Under the proposal, local governments also would not be able to increase spending beyond inflation plus population growth without approval by local voters.
The proposal is also the subject of a petition drive by the Blackwell-led Citizens for Tax Reform as a ballot issue in November.
'A higher standard'
"It would make the ability to raise or enact new taxes as politically difficult as possible, requiring broad consensus, thus holding lawmakers to a higher standard of accountability," said Reidelbach.
The spending limit would not apply after a declaration of emergency by the governor. It would create a budget reserve fund that would receive all unencumbered state general fund revenue and 10 percent of all encumbered, nongeneral revenue funds.
When the budget reserve fund surpasses 15 percent of the prior year's revenues, the excess of 15 percent would be returned to the taxpayers.
The measure drew immediate fire from some Statehouse Democrats, who criticized Republicans for having had years in the legislative majority to deal with state spending growth. The GOP outnumbers Democrats 60 to 39 in the Ohio House of Representatives and 22 to 11 in the Senate.
"They've had years to get tough on spending," said House Minority Leader Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island.
"The fact is that the people of the state of Ohio elect their legislators to make some very tough decisions about the economic outcomes and economic successes," said state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, the Senate's fourth-ranking Democrat.
"You can't start imposing these types of restrictions on elected officials who have to make some very tough decisions," Hagan said.
The proposed constitutional amendment also drew concern from at least one Republican, state Auditor Betty D. Montgomery who is also considering a 2006 GOP gubernatorial bid.
Mark R. Weaver, a Montgomery campaign spokesman, said Montgomery fears that the state's bond rating could be hurt if the amendment passes and that the state could be forced to pay more to service its debt.
Republican Gov. Bob Taft was studying the proposed constitutional amendment, Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said. Taft has also asked staff members to research what other states have done on this issue, Holubec said.
Three-fifths of the members of each chamber of the Legislature have to approve a proposed constitutional amendment to place it before the voters statewide. But the petition drive may circumvent that.
Blackwell, the state's chief elections officer, said backers must file at least 323,000 valid signatures with the state by August to qualify for the November statewide ballot.