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Voters to decide future of jobs program

On May 4, Ohioans will be asked to decide the future of the Ohio Third Frontier Program, a 10-year, $1.4 billion investment initiated in 2002 by the General Assembly and then-Governor Bob Taft to provide grants to Ohio companies and research institutions to develop high-tech products, stimulate business growth and create jobs.

The program, which is supported by $500 million in bonds approved by Ohio voters in 2005, is set to expire in 2012.

According to recent testimony from the Ohio Department of Development in the Senate Finance & Financial Institutions Committee, the Third Frontier has created more than 40,000 jobs and helped to attract $6.6 billion in investment to Ohio.

For more information on the Third Frontier Program please visit http://thirdfrontier.com.

This past week the Ohio House and Senate reached an agreement on House Joint Resolution 12, a constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot in May to authorize the state to issue $700 million in bonds to continue the Third Frontier Program for four years.

While HJR 12 passed with strong bipartisan support, negotiations on the proposal were tough and required burning the midnight oil to reach a compromise.

In November last year, House Democrats announced their intention to pursue a $1 billion renewal of the Third Frontier over five years and introduced HJR 12 shortly thereafter. Governor Strickland also voiced his support for the plan.

The Senate maintained that we were proud of the success of the Third Frontier and were committed to its renewal, but before the General Assembly asked voters to allow the state to spend more money on the program, we felt that it was important to craft a plan that was responsible and something Ohio voters could support.

On Jan. 11, the House passed HJR 12 as a $950 million renewal of the Third Frontier.

The Senate followed by approving a $500 million proposal, which mirrored the Third Frontier bond issue that Ohio voters said “yes” to in 2005 and an amount that we saw as a true renewal of the program.

The House did not agree with the Senate’s version of HJR 12, so a conference committee was formed to work out the differences between the two chambers. I served on the committee with State Senator Tom Niehaus (R-New Richmond), State Senator Dale Miller (D-Cleveland), State Representative Jay Goyal (D-Mansfield), State Representative Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) and State Representative Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster).

The conference committee met late on Tuesday, Feb. 2, and after much deliberation, reached a compromise to put a $700 million Third Frontier package before voters on May 4.

The consensus was that this figure provides the resources necessary to maintain a successful job creation program in which the investment pays for itself over a period of years while at the same time taking into account Ohio’s current budget situation.

It is also important to note (this is coming from the budget geek in me) that these dollars are bonded, which means that they cannot be spent to support ongoing state programs that are currently paid for through the state’s general revenue fund.

The Third Frontier Program has been a great success and is part of Ohio’s long-term strategy to create jobs and attract the development of innovative products and services that will help our state transition to a new economy. Third Frontier funds have been directed over the years to help grow promising small businesses or support research and development efforts at places like the Cleveland Clinic.

The program has also helped bring investment to the 17th Senate District through grants for various businesses.

Ultimately, it will be up to Ohio voters to decide if they think the Third Frontier Program is worth continuing into the next decade, and as your state senator, I am comfortable with giving you that option.

But no matter what happens with the Third Frontier, I will continue to do everything I can to create an environment in Ohio that is inviting to businesses and helps to attract investment and bring jobs to our local communities.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.