By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer
An advertising campaign launched Wednesday is trying to sell Ohio voters on a $500 million plan in the simplest of terms: More jobs, no higher taxes.
While many voters may never have heard of Issue 1, they will be asked to decide on Nov. 4 whether to amend the state constitution to allow the state to borrow $500 million to invest in private companies.
"Seriously? I didn't know a thing about it," Susan Long, 49, of Blue Ash said Wednesday. "It sounds like it could be a good idea ... I need to know more."
That's the point of the advertising, initially in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus. Issue 1 supporters will boil down a page and a half of carefully worded election language to two key points: It will create jobs and it won't raise taxes.
"One hundred thousand people between the ages of 18 and 44 left the state for other job opportunities," said Issue 1 campaign manager Brian Hicks. "Our job is to create job opportunities here, so they will stay. We know that we have seen the loss of 118,000 manufacturing jobs. A lot of those jobs won't be coming back."
That's too simplistic, opponents contend, saying taxpayers will be responsible for paying at least $63 million in interest on the $500 million in bonds and that select individuals, companies and universities may reap profits not available to others. They also say the state will be on the hook for projects that fail.
"This pierces the veil between taxpayer money and private business," said Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, and one of four lawmakers to author the official argument against Issue 1. "If (voters) are not asleep, hopefully they realize that the way to encourage business is by creating a climate where business can grow and prosper. Not by offering carrots to a few businesses."
Gov. Bob Taft, the architect of Issue 1, said it will support a new wave of businesses, with special emphasis on bio-medicine, agri-business, information technologies and research and development companies.
The ballot issue is the final piece of Taft's $1.6 billion Third Frontier Project, the state's largest economic development initiative.
The Third Frontier, which was launched toward the end of Taft's first term, calls for backing promising technology-based ventures and research and development projects involving universities, companies and state-run technology centers.
Issue 1 is backed by a host of divergent interest groups from Cincinnati to Cleveland; businesses and unions, Republicans and Democrats.
Ohio State University political science professor Herb Asher said Ohioans can expect to be hit hard with advertising and promotions.
"Right now, a lot of people can't tell you what Issue 1 is," he said. "In the last couple of weeks before the election, (supporters) of the issue are going to be trying to convert the issue into something voters can easily understand," he said.
Hicks, who was formerly Taft's chief of staff, said the $3 million "Yes on Issue 1" campaign will include 30-second radio and television spots that will expand from metropolitan areas to all regions of the state by next week.
Glendora Wilson, 42, of Kennedy Heights, said she caught one of the television ads already.
"Issue 1? That's about bonds, right? It's not going to cost us anything, right?" she said. "I saw a commercial, but it didn't go into too much depth."
Wilson said she was struck by the message that it would not cost taxpayers any money, but cautioned, "it was very, very vague."
Opponents warn voters not to be lured by sound bites that don't begin to explain what the state is doing.
Chief among concerns is that Issue 1 would amend the Ohio constitution so the state can invest in companies and share in profits - or shortfalls.
"We would be giving money to businesses that may or may not succeed," Brinkman said, adding that the state shouldn't act like a venture capitalist. "There are going to be failures and taxpayers will be left holding the bag."
If voters approve Issue 1, which got an easy nod from the Ohio House and the Senate, the state would be able to sell up to $100 million in general-obligation bonds in the first year and up to $50 million in each of the next nine years.
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City Hall assailed over Chinese slur
2 plead guilty in 'flipping' case
Ads alert Ohioans to $500M decision
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