A referendum for a constitutional amendment to cap state and local government spending that appeared headed for the November 8 ballot in Ohio has been held until the 2006 general election.
Citizens for Tax Reform (CFTR), an organization directed by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell (R), announced in early August it would file petitions on August 10 calling for the referendum, the legal deadline to get the Tax Expenditure Limitation Amendment on the November 2005 ballot.
However, in a statement released August 8, CFTR announced it would file its petitions on August 11, qualifying the referendum for the 2006 election.
“After consultation with legislative leadership, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett, and TEL supporters, the committee decided this issue deserves the widest possible exposure and debate,” said Blackwell, CFTR’s honorary chairman. “The 2006 general election ballot gives Ohio voters that opportunity.
“I intend to be the GOP nominee for governor and expect this amendment to be a major element of my platform of fiscal restraint for government and job creation for the private sector,” Blackwell said in the statement.
‘Huge Political Error’
TEL supporter State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr. (R-Cincinnati) said he was “very disappointed to learn [Blackwell] decided to wait until 2006. We need it now. By delaying this until 2006, he gives opponents time to rally opposition. I don’t think they’d have had time to do that if he had gone for November.
“This was a huge political error on his part. He would be a shoo-in for governor if he put it on now. He got people all psyched up for this. It’s one of the reasons I am not a supporter of his, even though we probably agree on 99.9 percent of everything. He doesn’t get the ball over the goal line.” Brinkman said he supports Attorney General Jim Petro for governor.
Plenty of Signatures Collected
CFTR collected more than 515,000 signatures, well in excess of the required 322,899 signatures.
Referendum supporters needed to collect the equivalent of 10 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. In addition, the petitioners were required to include signatures equaling at least 5 percent of the vote cast in the last gubernatorial race in at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
State Spending, Taxes Soaring
The TEL proposal requires voter approval of any tax increase and limits spending to the rates of inflation and population growth combined, or 3.5 percent a year, whichever is greater. It comes in response to soaring spending and taxes.
Ohio’s per-capita state and local tax burden has climbed from 47th in the nation in 1970 to seventh highest this year, according to “Comparison of State and Local Tax Burdens Across the Nation, 1970-2005,” issued earlier this year by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan taxpayer advocacy group in Washington, DC.
State spending has climbed 71 percent since 1994, according to CFTR.
“The message from Ohioans to politicians of both parties is clear: Stop spending our hard-earned tax dollars on political payoffs and pet projects,” said David Hansen, president of The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions. “Voters see the Taxpayer Bill of Rights as their rightful restraint on a government unable or unwilling to live within its means.”
Hansen said poll data released in August by Buckeye and The Americans for Prosperity Foundation show strong voter support for the proposal. The poll showed 57 percent of likely Ohio voters would support the ballot measure. Only 20 percent of survey respondents were opposed, while 22 percent remained undecided.
According to Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the random sample telephone poll of 500 likely voters, support for the amendment was widely bipartisan, with 56 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans favoring the concept. Support increased to 71 percent, with only 15 percent opposed, after respondents were given more information about the amendment.
Opponents of the amendment include the nonprofit Center for Community Solutions.
“The TABOR proposal would seriously diminish the ability of our elected governmental officials to deal with the challenging economic realities we are confronting,” stated the chairman of its board of directors, David S. Goodman, in a news release. “It would undermine the legislative process at both the state and local levels by taking away the right to make state and local decisions about state and local needs and resources.”
State Rep. Catherine Barrett (D-Cincinnati) also opposes the measure.
“When the state has more than 12 million people, and a bad economy, and has lost 290,000 jobs, we have a lot of our constituency who won’t have health care or food stamps if we limit spending,” she said.
Wasteful Spending Documented
Supporters of the proposal, however, remain convinced most Ohio citizens back the amendment.
“Much of the public is frustrated with their city councils and legislators, because we don’t seem able to discipline ourselves. This tax and expenditure alternative is something they may feel is necessary to have spending restraint and bring discipline to government budgeting,” said State Rep. Jim McGregor (R-Gahanna). “Our lack of discipline has required this level of restraint. If it gets on the ballot, I’d be surprised if Ohioans don’t support it.”
News that the amendment is going on the ballot in 2006 comes on the heels of detailed findings about waste in Ohio government.
On August 9, Buckeye and Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) released the 2005 Ohio Piglet Book, the first comprehensive analysis of wasteful spending in Ohio’s state budget. It counters arguments made by state officials that they’ve trimmed the budget back to the bone.
Buckeye and CAGW report having identified $3.5 billion of pork and waste in the state’s budget.
Matthew Hisrich ([email protected]) is a policy analyst at The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions.
For more information …
Information on the Ohio Tax and Expenditure Limitation Amendment is available online at the Web site of Citizens for Tax Reform, http://www.repealthetax.com/.
The 2005 Ohio Piglet Book is available online at http://www.buckeyeinstitute.org/docs/Ohio_Piglet_Book_pdf.pdf or at http://www.cagw.org.