Good spending plan, not tax cuts, needed

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

Tribune editorial staff

Asking most voters whether or not they think taxes should be cut is a little like asking a barber if you need a haircut. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what the answer to both questions is likely to be.

Perhaps that's a lesson that Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell learned early on his career - give people what they "say" they want and you'll gain popularity.

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Unfortunately, such decisions are rarely as simple as they may appear.

Blackwell, a candidate for governor in 2006, is leading the charge to repeal the state's temporary 1-cent sales tax increase. Lawmakers enacted the temporary tax in June to help raise some $2.5 billion over the next two years. The money was needed in a hurry because the state was in a fiscal emergency - either taxes had to be raised or spending had to be cut.

Blackwell's group, Citizens for Tax Repeal, has begun a serious campaign to have the tax nixed, and it appears the group's work is gaining popularity with some voters.

Unfortunately, cutting the tax will not solve the underlying problem - Ohio is spending more money than it has.

We presume Blackwell and other interested in repealing the tax hope that doing so will force lawmakers into cutting services until the budget is balanced.

But so far, we've seen few, if any, good ideas for where and how the state can cut spending to make up for the loss of the sales tax, should it be repealed.

Until a good spending cuts plan is in place - or at least up for discussion - talking about cutting taxes is moot. The legal arguments for and against repealing the tax will wind up costing the state more money it doesn't really have to spend. Repealing the tax may sound good and, perhaps, make taxpayers feel good, but it is not doing a thing to solve the bigger issue.

Repealing the tax may be great for quickly garnering political popularity points for Blackwell, but so far, we see little the state will immediately gain. What will make a difference is if lawmakers bear down and take serious look at where spending can be cut.