Funding vote to be on May ballot

By Paul Souhrada Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS _ The Ohio Supreme Court today cleared the way for a planned vote May 5 to raise the state sales tax to increase state spending on education and to give homeowners a break on their property taxes.

The seven-member court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the Legislature did not misuse a 147-year-old section of the Ohio Constitution to place the sales tax increase on the ballot.

The court, however, emphasized that it had not yet decided whether the state's new school-funding plan satisfied its order of March 24, 1997 to come up with a better way to pay for public schools.

The Ohio Roundtable sued in an effort to keep the issue from the ballot.

The Solon-based conservative public policy group that has campaigned for such issues as term limits and campaign finance reform argued that lawmakers had created a new route to the ballot without any rules. Other mechanisms for placing issues before voters have, for example, specific deadlines and roles for ballot boards, the secretary of state and county election boards.

President David Zanotti did not return a phone call to his office this morning.

The court agreed with the Legislature's contention that the Constitution allows lawmakers to delegate their authority _ in this case, to the people _ in matters dealing with education.

The court, in an unsigned opinion, also noted that all legislative actions are presumed to be constitutional, and that courts should be reluctant to interfere with elections.

Voters will now decide whether to increase the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent to raise more than $1.1 billion annually. Half of the money would be used to increase spending on public schools. The rest would be given back to homeowners in the form of a 15 percent reduction in their property tax bill, up to $275.

Zanotti and other critics of the ballot issue have noted that lawmakers twice failed to get the tax increase to the ballot in what they see as the proper way: by asking voters to amend the constitution. It was only after the lawmakers were unable to get a three-fifths majority in the House that they turned to the never-before-used constitutional provision.

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