Tax hike plan for Ohio schools opposed

Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS _ A conservative group said it will fight the Legislature's backup school-funding plan to place a tax increase on the primary ballot because it is not allowed by the constitution.

Unable to collect the 60 votes Wednesday to put a proposed constitutional amendment before voters, the House plans to start work next week on legislation that would need the support of only 50 of the 99 members to get the half-cent sales tax increase on the May ballot.

And because only proposed constitutional amendments must be approved at least 90 days before an election, the move would buy lawmakers an extra couple of weeks to come up with a plan to fix the way Ohio pays for public education.

Not so fast, says David Zanotti, president of the Solon-based Ohio Roundtable.

"The Legislature is attempting to subvert the intent of the Constitution," Zanotti said Friday.

Zanotti, one of the leaders of the 1992 campaign for term limits and the anti-casino gambling drives of 1990 and 1996, promised a legal challenge if the Legislature goes through with the plan.

The group disagrees with the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling against the current funding system, believing it is up to a legislature to decide how schools are funded.

Lawmakers are scrambling to find a source of money to pay for recently passed legislation that increases the state subsidy for public education and spending on things like all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes.

A half-cent increase in the sales tax _ to 5.5 percent _ would raise about $550 million a year. The money would be split between education and property tax cuts for homeowners.

Without the extra money, Gov. George Voinovich has said he will veto large parts of the bill.

That could leave the Legislature in a tough spot when it tries to convince the Supreme Court that it has met the order to fix the formula.

The court gave the Legislature one year _ until March 24 _ to make the funding more equal among districts and ease the reliance on property taxes.

House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, R-Reynoldsburg, conceded that the alternative route to the ballot has never been tried before. But she told reporters this week that it is allowed under a 147-year-old section of the Ohio Constitution.

The section allows the Legislature to delegate its authority when dealing with education-related subjects _ in this case to the voters.

That interpretation is incorrect, Zanotti claimed.

Generally, the provision has applied to laws passed by the Legislature and then implemented by the state school board or local boards of election, he said.

Zanotti isn't the only one with reservations about idea.

Senate President Richard Finan said the maneuver _ and resulting lawsuit _ could lead to delays in designing a school-funding plan.

"I'm not saying we're going to do it, or not do it," Finan said.

In addition, some lawmakers argue that it would be better if the tax increase for schools was amended into the Constitution. Otherwise, it would be easy for future lawmakers to eliminate it or use the money for something else.

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