Saturday, January 31, 2004

Bond issue may be back

$850 million plan sought for Nov. ballot

By John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A half-billion-dollar bond issue for high-tech projects that was defeated by Ohio voters in November is coming back to life, and this time, backers hope a bigger plan will get it approved.

The $500 million Issue 1 bond issue was reintroduced Friday as an $850 million plan with money for manufacturing and agriculture. State Rep. Jim Trakas, R-Independence, had hoped to find 50 co-sponsors for the bill - a majority in the 99-member House of Representative - but submitted the bill with 42, choosing not to wait any longer.

If passed by the House and Senate, the issue would go to voters in November.

"I think the timing is perfect," Trakas said. "This is the last component of the jobs initiative. I think it's an important component."

Issue 1 was a key part of Gov. Bob Taft's Third Frontier plan to create and retain high-tech jobs in Ohio. The money would have been used to operate the Wright Centers of Innovation around the state, for everything from utilities to hiring researchers. The bond issue was defeated by 51 percent to 49 percent.

Gov. Bob Taft's office has not endorsed Trakas' bill.

"The governor has said it's unlikely that he'd ask voters for approval of a bond issue this year," spokesman Orest Holubec said.

The governor said in Wednesday's State of the State address that the Wright Centers still need operating funds, and "he will identify a way to do that working with the legislature in the next couple of weeks," Holubec said.

Trakas' bill proposes:

• Changing the state constitution to allow bond money to be used for operating expenses and not just bricks and mortar.

• Raising $500 million in bond money to pay for operations of the Wright Centers.

• Helping manufacturers with $250 million in bond money, provided they buy Ohio-made equipment.

• Helping farms with bonds worth $100 million in bond money over 10 years, also provided that they buy Ohio-made equipment.

The bill drops one part of Issue 1, a proposal to allow the state to own equity in private corporations. That and the change in the constitution led the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation to oppose Issue 1, fearing that those provisions would set a bad precedent.

Tom Raga, R-Mason, is one of the bill's co-sponsors. He said Trakas' changes would broaden the appeal of the bond issue, but "it may not be where we end up."

By reintroducing the Third Frontier bond issue, "I want to keep the discussion about making sure we keep high-tech jobs and promoting business in Ohio alive," he said.

The other co-sponsors from Southwest Ohio include Republicans Patricia Clancy, Colerain Township; Tom Niehaus, New Richmond; and Jim Raussen, Springdale, and Democrat Tyrone Yates of Cincinnati.



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