Sunday, May 21, 2006

Re: Legislative vs. Initiative TEL

Tom, Steven,

I'd suggest you are BOTH right, at least in part.

The initiative version of TEL had some flaws, particularly relating to local spending and taxation. There were suggestions these could have been fixed legislatively after the fact, but it makes the whole thing look sloppy. Voters who are being asked to restrict the power of elected officials aren't too likely to trust them to fix errors later on, either.

The local portions also invaded home rule authority, there's no doubt. However, for those of us who live in parts of the state with one-party rule - Democrat or Republican - that was a feature, not a flaw.

A local example: Henry County's commissioners passed a sales tax in August 2005. An initiative got a rescission of that tax on the ballot that November, where voters overwhelmingly removed the tax. The commissioners attempted across the board cuts as a response, which further angered voters who wanted prioritization of basic services. There were numerous budget and criminal scandals in the meantime. Nevertheless, the commissioners put the tax on the ballot yet again, where it was soundly defeated May 2. Statements since indicate the commissioners were "heartened" by the couple of percentage points they picked up, and they may try to impose the tax a second time (rather than go to the voters again).

Henry County has two Republicans and one Democrat on the present board (NOTE: Temporarily, one seat is open as a convicted felon chose to step down from his post.). The three have mostly agreed on the shape of county government over the past few years. Debate is only over details.

The point I'm trying to make is this: Local government has too much ability to raise taxes and spending without seeking direct voter approval. While Initiative TEL had its flaws, it addressed a basic cause of Ohio's high tax rates and a sore point with many, many voters. Legislative TEL does not do so. Taxpayers feel they are being pinched at every turn, and local and state officials frankly have been running a "blame racket" where each points fingers at the other for the ever-increasing spending and taxes and neither takes responsibility. Schools, the local entities which have to ask voters for more funds, are usually the ones getting rejected, because they appear on the ballot so often. If the state, counties and municipalities all had to do the same for every tax hike they wanted, you'd see a very different dynamic in Ohio's tax structure.

The bad press, including outright lies, about Initiative TEL doomed it. Blackwell did the most he could and probably kept his gubernatorial campaign afloat because of it. Even so, there are many of us who are very disappointed local governments still can impose their decisions on voters, deflecting taxpayer frustration toward schools. It's a problem that won't just go away.

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