State of the state is not where Gov. Taft wants it

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 23, 2003

Tribune Staff

Traditionally, a governor's State of the State address is used to boast about past accomplishments and brag about good things on the horizon for the coming year.

On Wednesday, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft talked more about the survival of the state than the state of the state. He addressed "two profound issues facing Ohio … our dire budget situation … (and) our mission to transform Ohio's economy to create more high paying jobs."

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As Taft begins his second term, Ohio and other states across the nation are facing the worst financial crisis since World War II. The state is facing a $720 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The outlook for the next few years is no better. As Gov. Taft said Wednesday, "If last year's budget gap felt like a gale force wind, this year's budget crisis will feel like the 'Perfect Storm.'"

The governor

proposes raising alcohol and cigarette taxes and accelerating tax collections. He also is asking the General Assembly for permission to tap the remainder of the state's rainy day fund "to help offset mandated increases in Medicaid spending."

If the General Assembly rejects any new tax proposals, the cuts to essential state services will be painful. The cupboard is already nearly bare. Gov. Taft signed an executive order just Wednesday to cut state spending by $121 million, and only a handful of areas have been spared.

To keep the budget in balance, Gov. Taft and legislators must find a balance between cutting spending and raising revenue, likely in the form of taxation. It will not be an easy job, but all of our lawmakers -- both Republicans and Democrats -- must put personal interests aside and do what is in the best interest of the people of Ohio.

As Gov. Taft said in his closing remarks Wednesday, "In the difficult days ahead, we must rise above partisanship and personal ambition to do our duty. Like the leaders who have come before us, we must summon the courage to do what's right, not what is most expedient. Let us recognize and seize the opportunities that are surely ours."

With this year being Ohio's 200th anniversary, Gov. Taft and the General Assembly could very well be faced with one of the toughest fields Ohio has had to plow in two centuries.