Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Union boss, legislator seek Senate seat
By John Kiesewetter
Enquirer staff writer
WEST CHESTER TWP. - Melvin Smith and Gary Cates say it's only natural for each of them to seek the Ohio Senate 4th District seat being vacated by Scott Nein.
"Going to the Senate is a natural progression for me," says Cates, 48, the Republican legislator who is term-limited out of his Ohio House seat this year. "I'd be dealing with the same issues, but in a different chamber. This is where I could best use my experience."
Smith, acting president of the Butler-Warren-Clinton counties AFL-CIO, says serving in the Senate would allow him to fight for more citizens.
"For 23 years, I've been able to help the people who can't help themselves - getting them good health care, safe working conditions and a decent wage. That's why I'm running," says Smith, 49, a Vietnam War veteran who studied at Cincinnati Bible College before becoming a union official.
In their campaign to replace Nein - the Middletown Republican also losing his job to term limits - both agree that the state school funding problems must be fixed.
"Gov. Taft and the legislature have had ample time to deal with this, and now it's come to a crisis in Butler County schools," says Smith, a Hanover Township resident who lost a bid for a county commission seat to Courtney Combs two years ago.
The union leader suggests what he calls a "diaper tax." A sales tax on "family items" - such as diapers, children's clothing and shoes, toys, SUVs and computers - would go to school districts in each county, he says.
Smith, who has three children in college, also wants a cap on college tuition.
Cates, a former West Chester Township trustee, says he favors scrapping the state's complex school funding formula in next year's budget and replacing it with a flat amount "for every student, regardless of district." He supports shifting some state sales and income tax revenues into primary and secondary education.
A top priority for each is improving Ohio's economy - particularly with a projected $2.5-billion deficit when the temporary 1-cent sales tax expires in June - and Medicaid costs expected to devour 40 percent of the state budget.
"If something isn't done to get jobs, and make this state business-friendly, we'll go bankrupt," Smith says.
Cates proposes overhauling the state's 70-year-old tax code to make businesses shoulder a larger share of the tax burden.
"We have to make some very serious reforms ... in the next two years, if the state is going to grow in the next 10-15 years. Political leaders in the state must have the willingness to say that the short-term pain is worth it to bring long-term gains down the road," Cates says.