BEVERLY — Six days before Ohio voters decide to either reject or approve Ohio Gov. Bob Taft’s statewide job creation measure, the embattled governor promoted his economic development proposal in this Washington County village still using a fire station originally built to house horse-drawn carriages.
Taft’s Issue 1 proposal contains money for road and highway projects at the county level, and includes new funds to spur biomedical research and high-tech advancements. It combines the current state infrastructure funding process with Taft's Third Frontier initiative that failed before voters last year.
Taft said after his nearly 30- minute speech at the Muskingum Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Beverly Wednesday that his visit was part of a grassroots approach to pass Issue 1 through local support. At that level, the focus tends to be on the infrastructure side of the proposal.
But local residents attending the luncheon left doubting whether the proposal would spur development in their part of the state and questioned what would happen if the high-tech part of the measure leads to the defeat of the heavily relied upon infrastructure aspect.
Connie Zumbro, 40, of 3095 Chase Hill Road, Stockport, who attended Wednesday’s luncheon, said she’s likely to support the proposal. But she questioned what difference Issue 1 would make locally.
“I don’t think it will help, but I hope it does,” Zumbro said.
The combined proposal has been subjected to criticism across the state and locally, even as many township, municipal and county officials have issued resolutions endorsing the measure. The concern over the combined funding approach is that the high-tech issue will lead to the defeat of an issue many local governments rely on for infrastructure needs such as roads and bridges. Also, Taft’s dismal approval rating is said by some to hurt his ability to muster support for the proposal.
Taft spoke on Issue 1 for about five minutes, and most of what he said on the proposal centered on its infrastructure side.
Taft noted how up to two-thirds of Issue 1 dollars will be spent on local infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges and sanitary sewer projects. He also pointed to the hundreds of Washington and Morgan County projects that have benefited from the infrastructure part of the proposal over the last 20 years. One of those recent projects provided sanitary sewer relief in Barlow and Vincent, which has led to growth on Ohio 339 in western Washington County, Taft said.
“It’s not top down,” Taft said during his speech. “It’s a regional program.”
There was also speculation Wednesday among some in the crowd that Taft’s current political standing brought him to southeast Ohio to promote his proposal just prior to the election, instead of doing so in metropolitan areas that carry more votes. The feeling was that Taft knew he would be well received in a part of the state that regularly votes Republican.
Taft rejected that criticism, saying Issue 1 affects everyone in the state and it’s imperative to get information on the proposal to all residents, including the Mid-Ohio Valley.
“Southeast Ohio is a part of the state that not everybody comes to, but we have to get the information out,” Taft said.
Most of Taft’s speech before more than 60 attendees focused on his other, recent economic development efforts like his tax reform plan.
Phillip Ross, 57, of 149 E. Spring St., Marietta, also attended the luncheon. He said he’s likely to vote against the measure because he doubts the proposal will help locally. If it does pass, it will only reinforce the local reliance on government, he said.
“One of the problems with economic development in Appalachia is government help,” Ross said. “It sets up a kind of dependency on government. When you start depending on government like that it kills the individual spirit.”