The East Liverpool representative would especially like to reform the Ohio EPA.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS - Economic issues and reforms dominated business at the Ohio Statehouse during much of 2005, according to many state lawmakers, who agree 2006 will be interesting and productive. The year will include the election of a new governor.
Many lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle proclaim passage of the state's biennial budget as the highlight of the past year.
"When you look at 2005, we accomplished something we couldn't do in over 35 years," said Charles Blasdel, House of Representatives speaker pro tempore, referring to the low budget growth and tax reforms. "I'm very proud to have been a part of that."
Blasdel of East Liverpool, R-1st, said the budget growth was the lowest in 40 years.
Lawmakers gave Ohio families a 21-percent tax cut across the board and made reforms to business taxes and Medicaid.
Sen. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, said he was pleased the Legislature was able to keep local government funds and libraries in the budget.
He said lawmakers also were successful in passing legislation that included provisions to crack down on companies that take advantage of job training tax credits and move the jobs overseas.
Supporters of business tax reforms tout these and the passage of state Issue I as huge measures toward improving the state's economy.
Issue I, passed by voters in 2005, is expected to strengthen the state's infrastructure with its jobs package as well as invest in new high-paying jobs.
Despite the excitement over some tax reforms and jobs issues approved in 2005, some state lawmakers feel the year also saw many problems and disappointments -- such as legal problems of Gov. Bob Taft and some members of his administration.
Hagan said those issues coming to light was a step in the right direction.
"We exposed some of the scandals," Hagan said. "That was a positive step to getting rid of corruption."
Dann weighs in
Sen. Marc Dann of Liberty Township, D-32nd, also said Ohioans learned an important lesson about government over the last year.
"I think we've learned a whole lot about how government operates," he said. "People should be very concerned."
But, he added, the information was important to know. "It's a good process, but a little painful," he said.
Dann said the state also saw many good things happen over the year, including improving criminal laws and protecting victims' rights.
Hagan said Democrats enjoyed more success in the Republican-led Ohio Senate this year than in the past.
"We worked in a bipartisan way to protect the interest of the people of the state," Hagan said. "We weren't always successful, but we played the minority role well."
The air base
For state Rep. John Boccieri of New Middleton, D-61st, the biggest success of 2005 was in keeping open the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township.
A pilot with the Air Force reserves, Boccieri said the base is vital to the area and required a collaborative effort of both state and federal officials to keep it open.
Taxpayers will have a chance to donate to injured Ohio military personnel on their tax forms, thanks to legislation Boccieri introduced.
Boccieri spent the first half of 2005 deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
State Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood of Niles, D-65th, said she also believed keeping the air base open was an important accomplishment and benefit to the area. "Every job matters," she said.
Harwood also said she is pleased with the passage of legislation that placed restrictions on construction and demolition debris landfills. "It is just landmark landfill legislation," she said. "It's just been a struggle."
The issue had been introduced at the statehouse many times over the years but never came into law.
More to be done
Despite all their efforts in 2005, lawmakers agree there is more work needed on many of the same issues in the new year, including tax reforms and ensuring Medicaid is implemented correctly.
Lawmakers also agree 2006 promises to be busy and productive despite interruptions by the governor's race and other election races.
"Its going to be an exciting year, & quot; Boccieri said. "I think at the end of the day you'll see a lot more getting done."
He said he plans to focus on funding education and stemming the flow of job losses.
Hagan said he plans to focus on protecting pensions and health care and to improve health care for all Ohioans. He said he will work on environmental matters, including encouraging utility companies to invest in renewable energy.
"I look for a busy year and I look for a productive year," Hagan said.
He also predicted Republicans will lean more toward the middle. He said he thinks they are concerned about the job they've been doing and that more Ohioans are seeing Democrats as viable candidates with viable ideas.
Blasdel said he plans to work on getting the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to work more uniformly -- and would especially like to reform the state EPA, which he said he considers "extortionists of small business."
In addition to focusing on his bid for election as Ohio attorney general, Dann said he plans to address issues of educating the public on identity theft. He said he would also like to see bankruptcy and anti-predatory lending legislation pass into law.
Local auto industry
Harwood said she hopes the Legislature bands together to help keep the automotive industry in Ohio.
"That is an industry that is critical to the Valley," she said. "We'll be all over that just like we were all over saving the air base."
The House plans to continue work on a bill aimed at keeping automotive jobs in the state.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Randy Law, R-Warren, offers special incentives to automotive manufacturers to keep those jobs in Ohio. Law could not be reached to comment.
Harwood said she plans to bring the focus back to school funding and preserving those funds. She said she will work on legislation that will suspend gas tax for schools and find ways to help them deal with high energy costs.
Also unable to be reached for this story was Sylvester D. Patton Jr. of Youngstown, D-60th.