The lesser of two evils: Taxes or gambling

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Tribune staff

As Ohio's General Assembly and Gov. Bob Taft continue to butt heads on the best way to handle the state's budget deficit, if House Republicans have their way, the final choice may be put into the hands of the public.

In a plan formulated by House Republicans, Ohio voters would be asked to pick the lesser of two evils - raising taxes or authorizing electronic slot machines at race tracks. This, proponents say, would allow the state to make fewer funding cuts to state programs.

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State lawmakers are considering

adding a one-cent increase to the state sales tax for the next fiscal year. Then, in November, voters would be asked to choose between keeping the tax or placing 1,400 slots-style video lottery terminals at Ohio's seven race tracks. If voters reject the machines, the tax would be extended for one more fiscal year, generating approximately $1.2 billion. Revenue from slot machines, meanwhile, is estimated between $400 million and $900 million a year.

House Speaker Larry Householder said he wants the House Finance Committee committee to approve a bill by today so the full House can vote on it and send it to the Senate on Wednesday. Even if both the House and Senate approves the bill, it may never come to fruition. Taft has said he would veto placing the slot machines proposal on the November ballot.

The idea of imposing a temporary penny sales tax on the public that could be rescinded in November in exchange for approving slot machines just does not make sense. In addition to putting two hot-button issues on the table side by side, it also appears to be a form of political blackmail. As the majority of Ohioans seem to be against expanding state gambling, by tying the threat of a tax hike to the proposal, some who would not vote in favor of the slot machines may change their minds to keep from getting taxed more.

And, while the plan is supposed to eliminate some budget cuts, those to local governments and public libraries would still be on the chopping block.

We are betting the state Legislature can come up with a better plan.