State leaders say state Issue I was key to improving Ohio's economy.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- 2005 was a busy year for economic and other reforms in Ohio according to state leaders and many of the issues which led to those reforms will continue to take legislative center state in 2006.
"I think it's been a very prosperous year," said Ohio Senate President Bill Harris. "House Bill 66 wasn't only a budget, it was a vision."
He said many in the state doubted the Legislature could pass a budget with major reforms in it, but lawmakers proved them wrong. "That was a significant accomplishment," the Ashland Republican said.
He said several committees continue to meet and look at the best ways of implementing those reforms.
Karen Tabor, spokeswoman for Ohio House of Representatives Speaker Jon Husted, said the Ketterington Republican also holds the budget and reforms as the most significant legislative 2005 events.
"In the beginning of 2005, we set out to transform and revitalize Ohio's economy," Tabor said touting the state's budget and tax reform efforts.
She said the state saw the lowest budget growth in about 40 years and curbed state spending.
According to state leaders, the state also gave Ohio families a 21-percent tax cut across the board. "That's a huge accomplishment," Tabor said.
State leaders also tout the reforms the Legislature made to business tax codes as another huge measure toward improving the states economy.
Medicaid reforms were also a major accomplishment or 2005, according to state leaders.
"All of these pieces fit together into our goal to transform and revitalize the economy," Tabor said.
State Issue I was a key to improving Ohio's economy in the future, according to state leaders.
Learn then earn
The measure, passed by voters in 2005, is expected to strengthen the states infrastructure with its jobs package as well as invest in new high-paying jobs.
Harris said Ohio needs to be competitive and return to a "place businesses want to be." "We're doing a better job, but we need to do even better at keeping Ohio students in Ohio after graduation," Harris said.
According to Tabor, higher education will need to be a major focus of the Legislature in the new year. "We want to ensure that those who learn here, earn here," she said.
She said lawmakers will need to ensure Ohio graduates have the skills needed to succeed and to keep those skilled jobs in Ohio. "It's important the government and universities work collaboratively instead of competitively," she said.
In their efforts to keep those jobs in Ohio, 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 of Warren, R-64th, offers special incentives to keep those jobs in Ohio.
Tabor said the measure has received one hearing, but will hopefully advance through the House in the new year. "It's essential that Ohio not be left behind," she said.
More to do
Despite all the work in 2005, leaders agree there is much more work needed on many of the same issues in the new year.
Harris said election reform legislation was another important step the Legislature took in 2005. The measure passed the Senate earlier this year and recently passed the House with a few changes.
According to Tabor, Husted also plans for the House to continue working on election reforms and hopes a conference committee with the Senate will iron out any issues on the legislation.
Harris said the Legislature began working on predatory lending and eminent domain issues, but much more work is needed in the new year. He said voters could see eminent-domain issues on a ballot next year.
Harris said more work also needs to be done on foreign trade zones, gasoline taxes at the corporate level and streamlining the sales tax. He said more there will also need to be consideration of combining boards and commissions and determining if such a move would save the state money or cost more.
Tabor couldn't comment on Husted's plans for recently introduced legislation aimed at changing public records and other portions of Ohio's young concealed-carry law. The new bill, introduced by state Rep. Jim Aslanides, a Coshocton Republican, also aims to change the way firearms are carried in a motor vehicle.
"It would certainly receive its due diligence in committee hearings," she said.
Harris said typically such bills need a lot of fine tuning.
"I think that's legislation that can get very complex, just in what the language is," he said. "It's going to take all the parties working together. It'll continue to be a debate. It's not a cut-and-dry issue."
Several agricultural issues may also pop up in the Legislature in 2006. Harris said the issues of agricultural easements, megafarms and farmland preservation may come up for discussion.
"I think we have a heavy legislative schedule," Harris said adding it is heavier than usual.