Thursday, January 29, 2004

State of the State: Ohio needs jobs


Ohio Gov. Bob Taft's 2004 State of the State address Wednesday can be summed up in three words:

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

During his 35-minute speech before a joint session of the 125th General Assembly, Taft touched on a range of issues and initiatives, from college enrollment to legal reforms to high-tech investment to tax-code reform.

But for Taft, everything circled back to one central imperative: "Turn job losses into job gains," developing new avenues of employment for Ohioans.

"Everything depends on a good job - strong families, strong communities, the pursuit of the American dream, and a tax base to support schools for our kids and services for our seniors," said Taft, who told lawmakers that his new year's resolution is "to spend every day doing all I can to help create jobs for Ohioans."

His key initiative: appointing a Jobs Cabinet, chaired by Development Director Bruce Johnson, to help match workers with employers and streamline rules to cut red tape.

For citizens of a state reeling from years of budget deficits and concerned about our immediate prospects in a so-called "jobless recovery," Taft hit the right theme. Now it's up to the Legislature to translate that into concrete measures and meaningful reforms that will make a difference in how Ohioans live, learn and work.

Few of Taft's proposals were new; most are already in the legislative hopper or will soon be re-introduced.

He called for fair, broad-based tax reform, workers' compensation improvements, comprehensive lawsuit reform and more. But details were vague. He had little to say on K-12 education besides supporting high standards and test scores, and didn't touch on the still-simmering debate over funding. He detailed plans to boost college enrollment, but didn't address the upward-spiraling cost of tuition at Ohio's public colleges and universities.

Still, for Taft it was a forceful speech, more optimistic than last year's State of the State, in which he was compelled to be the bearer of bad budget deficit/tax hike/spending cut news. Those themes are still lurking in the background, particularly with the possibility of an early end to the one-penny sales tax surcharge legislators enacted last summer.

But Taft did his best to convey a forward-looking vision that put the focus on possibilities.

"Ohioans are truly an innovative, creative, and resourceful people," Taft said. State leaders' key task is to help Ohioans unleash those qualities.

What do you think?

Do you have an opinion on Gov. Bob Taft's State of the State address, or what he should do to improve Ohio? Write to Enquirer Editorial Page, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; e-mail letters@enquirer.com; or fax (513) 768-8610.

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