Tuesday, May 10, 2005

 

Blackwell amendment not finding supporters

We're sure this won't last long, but it is a little surprising - even encouraging - that Blackwell's bait-n-switch "spending limitation" amendment hasn't been backed by any major political player or newpaper. In fact, the opposition is still growing.

We reported a couple of weeks back about the formation of the Coalition for Ohio's Future. Although Blackwell may try to claim that these are just disgruntled labor groups, the names of participants in the coalition members seem pretty impressive at this early date, including AARP, Ohio United Way, Ohio Council of Churches, the League of Women Voters and dozens of other community, education and religious groups.

What's Blackwell got? Bupkis. Well, not exactly bupkis. He's got Phil Heimlich and the reverends Parsley and Johnson in his corner.

Maybe Blackwell thinks this is going to be a simple replay of Issue 1. Maybe he thinks it's going to be even easier. Overconfidence and bravado have never been lacking in Blackwell, and this time it might backfire.

Furthermore, the anti-amendment folks are really starting to unload on the entire concept of this proposal. The Dispatch's Joe Hallett this past Sunday wrote:
While her Republican rivals -- Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell and Attorney General Jim Petro -- pull on each other's shirttails in their race to out-conservative each other, [Betty] Montgomery is calculating that enough Republicans still hover around the center for her to win the nomination.

Thus, she had an audacious Wednesday when she did what most other Republicans have been afraid to do - ferociously attack the "tax and expenditure limitation'' that Blackwell wants voters to insert in the Ohio Constitution.

Experienced appraisers of state budgets - Republicans and Democrats alike - predict disastrous consequences for the budget and Ohio's economy if Blackwell's plan is approved. In a Columbus speech, Montgomery labeled it a "too-good-to-be-true scheme'' that would put governance of the state on "autopilot'' because it "effectively runs over representative government by handcuffing the governor and the legislature.''
Speaking of Montgomery, Betty appears to be making opposition to the amendment a centerpiece to her campaign, and she is not mincing words. The Beacon-Journal's associate editor Michael Douglas reported on a speech she recently gave at the Columbus Metropolitan Club, saying:
Montgomery explained the dangers [of Blackwell's amendment], the inflexibility "handcuffing the governor and the legislature... absolving them of responsibility for making tough fiscal decisions, leading to reduced investments in education and higher education at exactly the time that we need smart investments in these very areas if we are to succeed as a state."

Montgomery argued that the Blackwell proposal "may not be illegal, but it's the kissin' cousin of consumer fraud because it promises something that just cannot be delivered.''
Damn. "Kissin' cousing of consumer fraud"? Talk about a great slogan for the anti-amendment campaign! Will that fit on bumper stickers, we wonder?

Douglas went on to emphasize what Blackwell can't excape from - that a similar amendment enacted in Colorado in 1992 has been a disaster:
Don't believe it? Ask the governor of Colorado, long a champion of his state's strict constitutional limits on spending, limits very much like the Blackwell plan. Bill Owens now campaigns across the state urging voters to suspend the limits and allow the government to spend an additional $3 billion.

Owens cites essential road projects that have been postponed, and a University of Colorado that has suffered deep and debilitating spending reductions. Ohioans should note a critical difference. Colorado has a growing population. In other words, Ohio would likely have a worse time.
The comparisons to Colorado are important and inevitable and recently caught the attention of the Plain Dealer's Brent Larkin:
If you think education is important to a state's economic future, you'd better start looking for a new place to live.

That's because Ohio is only one election away from becoming perhaps the worst place in the na tion to educate the young - from kindergarten all the way through graduate school. And that election isn't the one they will hold next year for governor. It's the one apparently headed for the ballot this November.

[. . . ]

[The amendment] just might damage this state in ways that would be felt for decades. By almost any measure, Ohio is already a state headed in the wrong direction. With a little push from Blackwell, this would finish the job.

[. . . ]

In the last 15 years, some measures show Colorado's job growth rate plummeting from second in the nation to 49th. The state's Republican governor now wants to change the spending limits. And leading the charge to make that change is Colorado Rep. Brad Young, who describes himself as "a conservative Republican and proud of it."

Because Medicaid and other entitlements gobble up close to half of Ohio's budget, amending the Constitution to restrict spending might mean emptying the prisons, closing the parks and yanking kids off Head Start.

What it would do to education, especially higher education, is far worse. Because the Constitution requires Ohio to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of primary and secondary education, cuts to K-12 education spending would be deep and painful - but not mortal.

But higher education - the key to any state's economic prosperity in the 21st-century economy - has no such constitutional protection. So an amendment that restricts state spending would leave governors and legislators with no choice but to gut funding for higher education in ways that would devastate Ohio's two- and four-year state colleges and universities.

This state's pathetic support of higher education already has damaged its quality and priced potential students out of the marketplace. In considering the Blackwell plan, all Ohioans should heed these words from Cleveland State University President Michael Schwartz:

"It treats all of state government as an expenditure and none of it as an investment. So, fundamentally, what Mr. Blackwell is essentially saying is there shall be no public investment in the public's own future. That is beyond shortsighted. It's absolutely designed to propel the state into the past."
Larkin also addresses the strategy of offering a "Blackwell Lite" watered-down version of the amendment, but quickly discards it:
The other option is go to war with Blackwell on this issue. Try to stop him now - before it's too late.
Blackwell's bragging that his polling numbers are showing his proposal will win easily. We have no doubt that the polling numbers favor him. But for chrissakes, these are polling numbers from last fall!

This amendment has something in common with the Bush administration's Social Security: the more people get to know about it, the more they will hate it. We suspect Blackwell understands that, too. Nothing else could explain why he would suddenly hold a news conference, as he did last week, just to trot out data that's half a year old.

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