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Blackwell plan called flawed
SOURCE: Sandy Theis
The Plain Dealer
March 16 2006

Columbus - Had Ken Blackwell's plan to curb government spending been in place over the past three years, most school taxes that passed would have failed, critics of the amendment contend.

For example, they say, West Geauga's 2003 school tax would have lost in a landslide, not won in a squeaker in 2003; Fairview Park and Rocky River wouldn't have succeeded last year; and just 12 of the 114 school taxes that won approval in 2002 would have gone down to defeat.

For decades, school districts across Ohio have raised or renewed taxes by winning support from a majority of those who show up Election Day.

But a portion of Blackwell's November ballot proposal ap- pears to require support from a majority of all registered vot ers, not just a majority of those who vote.

"This is flawed and dan- gerous, both fiscally and economically," said Cleveland State University professor Edward "Ned" Hill, who did the research with colleague Kevin O'Brien.

The two Wednesday released their lengthy analysis of the Blackwell plan that concludes low voter turnout, especially during nonpresidential elections, would make it nearly impossible to raise school taxes and would infuse chaos into Ohio's already troubled system of school finance.

Blackwell, who aspires to be governor, would not comment.

David Langdon, the Cincinnati attorney who drafted the amendment, did not return calls.

But Citizens for Tax Reform, a group that supports the amendment, blistered the CSU study and insisted that the amendment would allow local governments to raise taxes with a simple majority of those who vote.

"It should come as no surprise to taxpayers of Ohio that organizations which rely on taxpayer funds for their programs or livelihoods would oppose any effort to control government spending," the group said in a written statement.

Blackwell views his Tax and Expenditure Limitation amendment, or TEL, as a prudent way to rein in out-of-control spending by state and local governments.

If approved, it would limit state and local government budgets to 3.5 percent growth per year, or the combined rates of inflation and population growth, whichever is higher.

It sounds simple, Hill said, but it's not.

Much of the controversy centers on the definition of "elector."

The CSU study argues that the TEL would create two separate thresholds for modifying the spending limits - one for state spending, and a more difficult test for local governments.

A separate legal analysis, also released Wednesday, reached an identical conclusion.

The CSU study was paid for by the Cleveland Foundation. The legal analysis, done by the law firm of Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff, was paid for by Cleveland's Center for Community Solutions, which opposes the TEL.

According to the Benesch firm, the Ohio Constitution defines an "elector" as an Ohio resident who is 18 or older who has been registered to vote for at least 30 days. State law outlines the same qualifications.

According to the TEL, spending caps can be raised at the local level with the "approval of a majority of electors in that political subdivision" - meaning a majority of registered voters.

At the state level, however, the amendment would allow spending limits to be modified with approval of "a majority of electors voting . . . ."

Whether the TEL is poorly drafted or is intentionally designed to make it more difficult to raise local taxes, Hill predicted its passage would force the courts to determine what definition of "elector" should apply.

As opponents try to persuade voters to defeat the TEL, they also continue efforts to knock it off the ballot.

They announced Wednesday that they have filed five new challenges to the validity of signatures collected on the qualifying petitions.

"The petitions from the counties where we have already filed clearly show a pattern of problems," said Bill Faith, who filed the protest and heads the Ohio Coalition on Homelessness and Housing.

Local boards of election are reviewing the petitions to determine if they were properly circulated and signed.