Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Taft says tech issue might return

Governor's $500 million proposal failed at November polls

By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer

For the first time since his high-technology initiative failed at the ballot box last year, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft said Tuesday that he's preparing to go back to voters again as early as 2005.

"That's an option we have under consideration," Taft told the Enquirer on Tuesday.

Taft's proposal for a cknstitutional amendment allowing a $500 million bond issue for high-technology investment failed in November, getting 49 percent of the vote. Many viewed the defeat as a personal and political setback for the second-term governor.

In Cincinnati on Tuesday - a day after he attended a $25,000-a-couple fund-raiser with President Bush in Indian Hill - Taft touted the $40 million in state funding for high-technology programs in Hamilton County. They include:

• $27.7 million to Children's Hospital Medical Center for a partnership in "computational medicine," which uses computers and genetics for earlier diagnosis and treatment of cancer, heart disease and asthma.

• $9 million to the University of Cincinnati's Genome Research Institute, which will study proteins in an attempt to develop new drugs.

Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said that by going back to voters in 2005, "we'll have more examples of success like those to take to the voters."

But critics said Taft's first plan was too heavy on those kinds of biotechnology and other cutting-edge industries, and didn't do enough to recognize Ohio's manufacturing and agricultural roots.

Rep. Jim Trakas, R-Independence, has 43 co-sponsors on a resolution that would remedy that by committing an additional $250 million to manufacturing and $100 million to agriculture - for an even more ambitious bond issue of $850 million.

While the governor's office made clear he wasn't endorsing any particular plan, Trakas said Taft's support for another try was "terrific news."

"I've talked to business groups, higher education and people in technology, and they all agree that we have no choice but to embrace the future," Trakas said. "What this does is to provide for today's economy and tomorrow's economy."

Taft said a 2004 campaign was out of the question: Supporters need more time to refine the proposal, and the presidential race would drown out an effort to explain it to voters.

Trakas has another reason why the Nov. 8, 2005, election makes sense: Voters in four of Ohio's six largest cities - Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo - will go to the polls to elect mayors. That could boost the turnout in the industrial cities, where support is likely to be higher.

Farm Bureau support may be slow to come around. President Bob Peterson, a Fayette County soybean farmer, said Tuesday that farmers aren't anti-technology. They're just more concerned about whether the state can afford $850 million in additional investment without raising taxes.

"What will win our support is if it's a good idea. We're not asking if there's something in it for us," he said. "On my farm, when yields are down and prices are down - as they are right now - I have to cut my spending."

State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Mount Lookout, was a vocal opponent of the 2003 ballot measure and said nothing has happened to change his mind.

"Corporate welfare is corporate welfare. Just because you buy off the manufacturers with more money for them, and you buy off the farmers, doesn't change what it is," he said.


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