THIRD FRONTIER PROJECT In switch, farm bureau favors loan initiative

The farm bureau says the state can better afford the loans now than in 2003.
COLUMBUS -- Changing course from a couple of years ago, a farm advocacy group says it will support a $2 billion proposal on the November ballot that backers say will stimulate job creation in Ohio.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation also says it supports plans to borrow $500 million to pay for Gov. Bob Taft's Third Frontier Project.
In 2003, the farm bureau opposed a similar Third Frontier loan, to be taken out through the sale of bonds, but now says it thinks the proposal would benefit the state's farm economy.
Despite a $3 million-plus pro-issue campaign, voters defeated the Third Frontier package in 2003 by two percentage points, 49 percent to 51 percent, and the issue went down in many rural counties.
What's changed
Farm bureau Executive Vice President Jack Fisher said Wednesday much has changed since the first Third Frontier bond issue was offered two years ago.
"Two years ago, the state budget was in a lot different situation," Fisher said in an interview, noting the difficult financial circumstances that the state found itself in at the time.
"Part of our board's thinking was that certainly economic development is important, but there comes a time when you can't afford it," Fisher said.
Also, Fisher said, the farm bureau's board was critical of the overall business climate in the state in areas such as civil litigation and state taxes.
"It was our opinion two years ago that if we were trying to recruit businesses in Ohio, when we brought them in, we wouldn't have the business climate to sustain them," Fisher said.
Laws revised
In the recently enacted, two-year, $51.2 billion state budget state officials revised Ohio's tax laws.
Also, lawmakers had adopted reforms to the state's civil litigation laws, something that was supported by the farm bureau and other business interests.
"We're saying that overall the business climate is improved," Fisher said. "We're saying it's time to move forward."
Officials at the Farm Bureau, a 225,000-member group that reaches into every county in the state, said the new loan package, which, along with funding in support of the Third Frontier Project to stimulate high-tech jobs in Ohio, includes a $1.35 billion bond issue for local road and water projects, and a $150 million bond issue for industrial parks and other business site development, will benefit the whole state.
Fisher said he expects the farm bureau to campaign for the "Jobs for Ohio" plan this fall.

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