Thursday, January 29, 2004

Businesses liked tone, but wonder how it can be done



By John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Gov. Bob Taft's State of the State address Wednesday left many business people pleased with the themes, but hungry for details.

What did the governor mean when he called for tax reform, or finding more money for the Third Frontier initiatives to create high-tech jobs?

"There was a high-level theme of creating higher paying jobs in the state," said Bill Carrelli, an executive with the Milford software firm UGS PLM Solutions. "I thought I might find some specific initiatives."

Small business found much to cheer about in the speech but still wants specifics, said Ty Pine, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which has 36,000 members in the state.

Pine cheered Taft's call for making it more difficult to sue businesses and for a moratorium on health-care mandates, which force businesses to provide types of coverage for their employees.

But, he added, "It'd be nice to know what they're thinking about tax reform," and the governor said nothing about controlling the growth of state spending.

Everyone, it seems, will have to wait for details.

"Executive leadership is accomplished by setting the agenda and identifying priorities," and the governor laid out a number of priorities that Ohio business finds critical, said David Hansen, managing director of public policy services for the Ohio Manufacturers' Association. Those include initiatives to create jobs, lawsuit reform, reforming the workers' comp system, tax reform and finding more money for the Third Frontier program.

It's up to the legislature to follow that lead, Hansen said.

Josh Hall, director of research for the Buckeye Institute, a conservative policy group that focuses on state finances, said in some ways the governor was too specific.

"The governor focuses on listing what he considers his Department of Development's successes, not Ohio economy successes," he said.

Tony Shipley, chairman of Queen City Angels, a Cincinnati venture capital fund, would have liked to have heard more support for entrepreneurs.

"He talked about the jobs we're losing. He talked about things to bring jobs back and keep people employed." But Shipley noted there was little about forming new companies. "I think it could have been stronger in that area."

Jack Wyant of Blue Chip Venture Co. in Cincinnati said he talked Wednesday morning with an Israeli high-tech firm thinking of putting its U.S. headquarters in Cincinnati. The Third Frontier program makes Ohio attractive to companies like that, he said.

"You wouldn't want to go to an old economy (state)," he said.

But the defeat of Issue 1 left the Third Frontier program $500 million short, and Wyant said he's concerned that money won't be replaced. "If you cut back a half a billion dollars, it might be the 2.5 Frontier instead of the Third," he said.

How far Taft gets with that agenda is in question, said University of Cincinnati pollster Eric Rademacher. Creating jobs and tax reform "are always popular themes. But while the governor is trying to sell his plan, Ohioans will be focusing in on presidential candidates instead, and their plans for the economy, and how each candidate's administration might help Ohio's economy," he said.

Put that together with Taft's low approval ratings and "the realization in the legislature that he is a lame duck," he said. "Any of these proposals will probably boil down to how much he's willing to negotiate or compromise."

E-mail johnb@enquirer.com




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