Saturday, October 4, 2003

Tax-and-spend Republicans are strangling Ohio



Peter Bronson

Here's a sign you won't see on the bridge from Kentucky: "Welcome to Ohio, the high-tax California of the Midwest."

In fact, Ohio taxes are ninth highest in the nation, but most residents don't know it. Most politicians hope to keep it that way - except for Ohio's most conservative Republican, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, and the most conservative Democrat, Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes.

If they had their way, every taxpayer would know the three laws of government:

One: Government grows faster than we can feed it.

Two: Spending has no political party.

Three: If you send it, they will spend it.

"Ohio is entering a death spiral akin to California," Blackwell said. "An intervention is needed now before it gets worse."

His remedy is a statewide petition drive to repeal this year's 1-cent sales tax hike. "They hid it in the budget and they created an illusion of a budget crisis to get it passed," he said. "We subsidize runaway spending. We budget by scary scenario."

He said spending has increased 70 percent in 10 years, and swelled 11 percent thanks to the 20 percent sales tax increase. Meanwhile, Ohio lost 118,000 jobs and ranks 39th for being "business friendly."

Blackwell may be hoping to ride a California-style tax revolt right into the governor's office. But he has a point, according to Josh Hall, director of research at the conservative Buckeye Institute.

"We provided numerous ways for budget cuts to be made," Hall said.

"But when the lawmakers found out the sales tax increase could avoid painful decisions, they went for that."

Hall said Ohio could easily balance its budget - even after Blackwell's sales tax repeal - by making small changes and cuts in Medicaid and K-12 education. "But taxpayers are mostly a disinterested group," he said. "They don't fill up school buses and come down to the capital. Schools do."

An article in the October Reason Magazine underlines Blackwell's scorching criticism of his own party: Watch out for those tax-and-spend Republicans. Between 1997 and 2002, spending in Republican-controlled states such as Ohio actually rose slightly faster than in Democrat-controlled states.

Ohio's basic spending on education more than doubled, from $2 billion to $4.5 billion, in the five years ending in 2003, Hall said. And although K-12 spending is sacrosanct in Columbus, there's not much to show for it.

Blackwell's message: It's the spending, stupid - and it's killing the state.

Dusty Rhodes sings from the same hymnal.

In his annual report for Hamilton County, graphs for property taxes and population look like a playground slide: The taxes go up, step by step, while population slips down a steep curve.

Thanks to a menu of special levies, the residential property tax per-person in Hamilton County has climbed to $175 - compared with $79 in Butler County, $81 in Clermont and just $30 in Warren, Rhodes reports.

"Since 1993, the county's residential property taxes have increased by approximately 66 percent," he said. "Over the same 10-year period, the county has lost almost 40,000 residents."

Blackwell and Rhodes are right: What Ohio needs is a jolt of California-caffeine tax revolt - or the signs on our bridges may soon say, "Will the last one out, please turn off the lights?"

E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.




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