Thursday, March 25, 2004

Ohio's taxes blamed for flight

Blackwell says our rates causing loss of those age 25-39

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PENDLETON - Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell read the census numbers: Ohio leads the nation in the exodus of 25- to 39-year-olds. It's one of a handful of states that's exporting more college graduates than it's importing. And every day, 250 people leave Ohio for Florida.

The reason, Blackwell said, is that Ohio's taxes are too high.

The former Cincinnati mayor spoke to about 200 people Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce. His address was part lecture on tax policy, part Blackwell's life story, and part motivational speech to Over-the-Rhine developers, bankers and business owners.

Unstated - but just below the surface - were Blackwell's political ambitions.

"There's a rumor that he might be running for another position in 2006," said Over-the-Rhine Chamber President Tom Besanceney, in an understatement. That other position is Ohio's governor, and the event may have marked the Republican's first Cincinnati stump speech in his unofficial campaign.

In a speech that referred to James Madison, the Declaration of Independence and the Boston Tea Party, Blackwell said Ohio has "shrinking tax base with an increasing tax burden."

"When government won't cut their taxes, Americans will cut their own taxes - if they are able - by moving," he said.

Although Blackwell spared the audience a sales pitch on his tax repeal plan - he's leading the effort to repeal the state's temporary one-cent sales tax ahead of schedule - he said the state's taxes were stifling innovation.

"I'm a staunch defender of concealed-carry, but I think our legislature has been more concerned with who's packing heat than who's packing suitcases," Blackwell said in an interview.

Blackwell, a former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said cities like Cincinnati - and neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine - need to play off their diversity as an economic strength.

And while he paid homage to the "creative class" - the emerging class of knowledge workers who are defining urban economies from Boston to San Francisco - he said Ohioans should be careful not to disparage its industrial past.

"I saw it with how the governor managed his Third Frontier campaign. Where it was defeated is where people still have a sense of pride in making things, manufacturing, or growing things, agriculture. It said to them, your time has passed.

"We need talent and tolerance, but we also need economic diversity."


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