Two candidates from each party speak of improving the state's economy.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- If he's elected governor, Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell says he wants the state to lease the Ohio Turnpike to private interests to fund a potential $6 billion economic-development fund.
Blackwell's GOP rival, Attorney General Jim Petro, is pushing a reorganization of state government, which the attorney general says can save Ohio taxpayers more than $1 billion annually.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland of Lisbon is plugging the need for so-called "living-wage" jobs for Ohioans, the need to reform education and to improve access to higher education and health insurance for Ohioans.
Strickland's Democratic rival, former state Rep. Bryan Flannery of suburban Cleveland is pushing the need to reform how Ohio funds its public schools and is pushing a state constitutional amendment that backers said would cut property taxes by more than $2.5 billion statewide.
Voters will decide which candidates get their party's gubernatorial nomination May 2. Primary winners advance to the November general election.
Blackwell, of Cincinnati, is in his second and final consecutive four-year term as the state's chief elections officer.
Blackwell has been an ardent proponent of tax cuts and was a leader in the successful gay-marriage ban of 2004.
If elected, Blackwell said he'll seek legislative support to lease the Ohio Turnpike to private interests, a move that he said could generate $4 billion to $6 billion for the state treasury.
Proceeds of the proposed lease could be used for economic development including energy, a revolving development loan fund, turnpike corridor development and a higher-education scholarship fund for engineering or science students, according to Blackwell.
"We must innovate. We must take risks. Ohio must use every resource available to create new jobs," Blackwell said.
Blackwell is also backing a constitutional amendment that's to appear on the fall ballot that would limit state and local spending.
The proposal, called a Tax Expenditure Limitation, is a way to keep government spending in check, Blackwell said.
But critics say the measure would slash funding for vital government services.
Before being elected secretary of state in 1998, Blackwell served as state treasurer. Then Gov. George V. Voinovich had appointed Blackwell to fill a vacancy in March 1994. Blackwell was elected to a four-year term later that year.
Before that, Blackwell served as mayor, vice mayor and a city councilman in his native Cincinnati; a deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Housing & amp; Urban Development; and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Blackwell has also served as vice president of Xavier University in Cincinnati.
Blackwell has chosen state Rep. Tom Raga, a Mason Republican, as his lieutenant governor running mate.
Petro, of Columbus, is pushing a reorganization of state government, which the attorney general says can save taxpayers more than $1 billion annually.
If he's elected, Petro also says he wants to work with state lawmakers to make further changes to the state's tax laws.
Petro is plugging his own proposed constitutional amendment that he said would cap the tax revenue the state could collect each year to 5.5 percent of the total business and personal income in the state.
"This proposed constitutional amendment would guarantee that state government would never become a larger part of Ohio's economy than it is today," Petro said.
Petro backers say they will seek to get the proposed amendment on the November ballot if Blackwell doesn't take the proposed TEL amendment off.
Petro was elected attorney general in 2002. Prior to that, he served two four-year terms as state auditor.
Before that, Petro was a Cuyahoga County commissioner in the early to mid-1990s. He also served two stints in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1981 to 1984 and from 1987 to 1990.
Petro has also served as a local official in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River.
Petro has chosen state Sen. Joy Padgett, a Coshocton Republican, as his running mate.
Strickland is in his sixth two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Strickland says he believes Ohio is headed in the wrong direction and that the state needs new leadership after years of Republican domination of state government.
Strickland is advancing a strategy he says will help the state's economy grow.
Dubbed "Turnaround Ohio," Strickland is calling for connecting education and health-care reform and capitalizing on Ohio's strengths to economic development.
According to Strickland's campaign, the plan would give teachers the technology and tools to stimulate problem-solving and creative skills among students; boost the numbers of students in Ohio's college and universities by improving access; build regional economies around the state to spur small- and mid-sized business growth and get a handle on increasing health-care costs.
"We know that healthy, happy children are able to learn; that good learners in effective schools become educated adults ready to contribute as workers; that able workers stay where there are worthy opportunities," Strickland said.
Strickland, who has received the endorsement of the Ohio Democratic Party, has chosen former Ohio attorney general Lee Fisher of Shaker Heights as his running mate.
Flannery, of Strongsville, says he has a solution to a state's school-funding dilemma in which the Ohio Supreme Court has four times ruled that the manner in which the state funds schools is unconstitutional.
Flannery is backing a proposed constitutional amendment that he said would cut property taxes by more than $2.5 billion statewide.
Under Flannery's proposed constitutional amendment, the state would have to fund 100 percent of the identified cost of a public education minus 15 mills of local property tax, a provision that backers say could reduce property taxes statewide by more than $2.5 billion.
Flannery said the average statewide millage is 45 mills.
Flannery has said he believes the proposal will pass constitutional muster.
"This works, I'm convinced of that," said Flannery.
Flannery says he and the group Educate Ohio are trying to get the proposal before voters this November.
A graduate of St. Edward's High School in Cleveland, Flannery went to college at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
He started his public service career as a member of Lakewood City Council, on which he served for five years.
Flannery took his seat in the Ohio House in 1999 and has served on several House committees, including the influential, budget-writing House Finance and Appropriations Committee.
Flannery left the House in 2003 after unsuccessfully running for secretary of state the previous fall, losing to Blackwell.
Flannery has chosen Cuyahoga Falls health-insurance consultant Frank M. Stams as his running mate.