OHIO SENATE Democrats to push plan for revolving loan fund

Sen. Marc Dann is behind the measure.
COLUMBUS -- Four Democratic state senators are pushing a plan to create a $2.4 billion regional revolving loan fund that they say could help kick start the state's economy.
But it's also a measure that could rival a proposed bond issue offered by Republican Gov. Bob Taft for this November that would support high-tech businesses.
"All of the existing programs are centralized in Columbus," said state Sen. Eric D. Fingerhut, the Cleveland Democrat who will be introducing the measure to create the loan fund along with Democratic state Sens. Marc Dann of Trumbull County, Kimberly Zurz of Green and Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville.
"We feel very strongly that while it's important to think of Ohio as a state, realistically we are made up of separate regions," said Fingerhut, who offered a similar proposal in the last two-year Legislature that ended in December.
"What we want to do is try to add some ideas and options to the debate," added Dann. "We need to do something to stimulate economic development -- this does it on a very local basis."
Under the Democrats' proposal, $20 million would be distributed each year for 10 years to 12 regional boards to support economic-development projects.
By the end of that period, each of the 12 regions would have $200 million to help stimulate economic development projects, under the proposal.
The funding, under the Democratic proposal, would be borrowed through the sale of state bonds backed by the state's share of liquor profits, a funding source the Democrats say has been growing in recent years.
According to information from state officials, in 2004 there was $552.8 million in state liquor sales, a $34 million increase from 2003.
Under the Democrats' proposal, mayors, county commissioners and other officials from a region would make loans to public and private nonprofit research institutions to help stimulate development of new technology or private businesses to help them modernize machinery and equipment or make other improvements.
The Democratic lawmakers say their proposal doesn't require a ballot initiative as did a proposed statewide bond issue offered by Taft in 2003 to support high-tech business initiatives. Voters rejected that proposal.
Taft proposal
The Taft administration and GOP legislative leaders have unveiled companion legislation in both legislative chambers that would seek another statewide bond issue this November to support high-tech business in the state.
Fingerhut said he believes the Democratic proposal could be done in conjunction with Taft's proposal, if the plans are approved.
"There's no reason you couldn't do both," Fingerhut said. "They are not mutually exclusive."
"But this is bigger, it's smarter and quicker," Fingerhut said of the Democratic proposal.
"You could have this up and running in six months from the date of passage," Dann said of the Democratic proposal. "This is a much simpler solution."
Wilson said backers of the Democratic proposal will be soliciting support from the Republicans, who control the upper chamber, 22 to 11.
"We're hoping to get other members to buy into it," Wilson said.
Mark Rickel, a spokesman for Taft, said the governor has no immediate comment on the Democratic senators' proposal. Rickel said Taft administration officials are meeting with business officials and other interest groups on the scope and parameters of the administration's proposed bond issue.
Senate Republican leaders couldn't be reached to comment.

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