Thursday, October 16, 2003

Ken Blackwell: Ohio's 'Arnold?'

Pump up the debate

Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell may have played college football, but a Mr. Universe he's not. That could be the only aspect in which the nickname "Arnold of Ohio" the Wall Street Journal gave Blackwell in an editorial Tuesday doesn't quite hit the mark.

Otherwise, the Journal was dead on (Arnold as in California Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger): Blackwell may trigger a California-style tax revolt here with his campaign to repeal the "temporary" one-cent sales tax hike enacted this summer by a General Assembly dominated by Blackwell's now-not-so-fellow Republicans.

More important, he is spurring a long-needed debate on Ohio's economic policies and on the direction of its Republican Party. Cincinnati native Blackwell, the Journal said, is an "apparently rare Republican who understands that Ohio needs some fiscal discipline."

It does indeed. Under GOP control, state spending increased 70 percent in past 10 years - the most in the nation. Ohio is perilously close to last among the states in business friendliness, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation.

Some folks aren't pleased, however - namely, those apparently "unrare" Republican leaders who blasted Blackwell's repeal bid as a stunt to help get him elected governor in 2006. It may well be that - so what? - but it's also consistent with what Blackwell has argued for years.

Last week, Attorney General Jim Petro - one of Blackwell's main competitors for the GOP nod in 2006 - rejected repeal petitions because they didn't include the words "that will expire on June 30, 2005" referring to the sales-tax increase.

It seemed more a delay tactic than a substantive objective. Blackwell's group, Citizens for Tax Repeal (www.repealthetax.com) has re-submitted petitions with the revised wording. It has until Dec. 15 to collect 96,870 signatures, which would force legislators to debate the repeal next year. If lawmakers do nothing, another round of signatures would put repeal to the voters in November 2004.

"Arnold" Blackwell may be using his terminate-the-tax movement to pump up his own gubernatorial ambitions. But if it helps Ohio strengthen its anemic fiscal-discipline muscles, it's well worth the exercise.

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