Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Tempers flare, charges fly in battle over tax rollback


Inside Ohio's Capital

Click here to e-mail Debra
 
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The fight over taxes has reached the boiling point at the Ohio Statehouse, with Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Republican House Speaker Larry Householder giving each other tongue-lashings that get harsher every week.

The battle began when Blackwell, a former Cincinnati mayor, started pushing to repeal the one-cent sales tax increase that went into effect last year. The tax raises an additional $1.3 billion a year; it expires June 30, 2005.

Blackwell says the tax is a drain on the economy, and that the GOP-led legislature needs to cut spending and repeal the tax. He blames Householder, in part, for failing to get it done.

"Outside the beltway there is a big demand for spending reductions," Blackwell said last week after Gov. Bob Taft's State of the State speech. "(Householder) can daydream all he wants, but while he hugs the status quo, he does so at his own peril."

Blackwell got more than 157,000 Ohioans to sign petitions putting the repeal issue before lawmakers. If they don't act, he plans to put the repeal question to a vote in November.

He says the legislature shouldn't wait for voters to take action, they should repeal the tax now. "Wake up Larry, the time to do something is here," he said.

Asked what he thought about Blackwell's assertion that the state must slow its spending, Householder shot back, "I don't care what he says."

Householder added, "The office that proposed that (repeal) is so unsuccessful, I'm not confident it will succeed. Where is it? I'm not going to deal with it until it gets here."

REPEAL BATTLE: Householder knows the repeal petitions face legal challenges at several Ohio county election offices. The challenges could keep the repeal issue off lawmakers' desks for months.

Blackwell's decision to hire a lawyer at taxpayer expense to deal with those challenges landed him in some political hot water over the weekend.

Blackwell, the state's top elections official, hired Columbus lawyer Susan Kyte at $150 an hour to make sure election code procedures were being uniformly followed in each challenge.

Repeal opponents said Blackwell's decision to hire Kyte created a conflict of interest, saying the secretary of state was using the power of his office to benefit the repeal, which he is leading as a private citizen.

Attorney General Jim Petro dismissed Kyte Friday. Secretary of State spokesman Carlo Loparo insists there was no conflict of interest in Kyte's hiring because she never worked for the secretary of state and the repeal campaign at the same time.

Petro has since appointed a new lawyer from a Columbus firm to monitor the challenges.

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E-mail djasper@enquirer.com and shunt@enquirer.com




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