On Tuesday, May 5, Ohio voters delivered a resounding defeat to a proposed $550 million statewide tax hike aimed at boosting spending on the state’s public schools. Four out of five voters rejected the proposal, which would have increased the state sales tax by one cent.
Although public school officials themselves had opposed Issue 2, calling it inadequate, the unexpected and decisive 80-20 margin of defeat now makes it unlikely that elected officials will promote higher taxes for education in the near future.
Combining increased education funding and property tax relief, Issue 2 was developed in response to last year’s ruling in DeRolf vs. State, in which the Ohio Supreme Court determined that the state must assume more financial responsibility for public schools. The proposal, which had won the endorsement of every major newspaper in Ohio, had a slight lead in two polls taken nine days before the election.
But on Election Day, Issue 2 went down to defeat in every county in the state. Even in Perry County, where the original DeRolf complaint on inadequate school funding was filed, only 12 percent of the voters supported Issue 2. At the same time, voters approved more than half of the local school tax referenda on ballots across the state.
Governor George Voinovich, who had advocated the tax increase, viewed the election results as a clear rejection of additional taxes for schools. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Taft agreed, saying that school reform must be achieved without higher taxes.
“The people have spoken, and they don’t want higher state taxes for schools,” said Sam Staley, a policy analyst for The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions. “Everyone was so shocked by the lopsided vote that no one is talking about increasing taxes now,” he added.
Staley suggested three major reasons for the overwhelming defeat of Issue 2: public school officials vigorously opposed it as “not enough”; voters didn’t think schools would spend the money wisely; and voters generally don’t like tax increases. “Voters knew what they were doing,” maintained Staley. “They know more money isn’t going to solve the problem.”
Local school officials had anticipated that the defeat of Issue 2 would force the governor and state legislature to come up with even more money and even higher taxes. But with 80 percent of Ohio voters making a tax increase out of the question, those same officials must now improve their schools without the extra funds Issue 2 would have provided. They “ambushed themselves,” noted the Akron Beacon Journal.
Perhaps the best prediction of voter sentiment on Issue 2 came from a group of 1,480 Ohio small business owners who were polled in January by the Ohio affiliate of the National Federation of Independent Business. Almost four out of five opposed increasing any state tax to comply with the State Supreme Court order, and only one out of three believed that too little was being spent on education. (See “Small Businesses Oppose Ohio Schools Tax Hike,” School Reform News, March 1998.”)
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].