Ohioans Defeat Effort To Repeal Tax Increases
Cleveland--Citizens' concerns about education, jobs, and the possibility of property-tax increases were widely credited last week for the defeat of two anti-tax initiatives on Ohio's ballot.
By margins that astonished even the most ardent opponents of the initiatives, Ohio voters rejected Issue 2, which would have required a three-fifths majority in each legislative chamber to enact any revenue-raising legislation, and Issue 3, which would have repealed the income-tax increase and tax-reform packages enacted this year.
"Clearly, education was the turnaround issue," said G. Robert Bowers, assistant state superintendent of public instruction. "We believe the election bodes well for continued progress in education and that it signifies Ohioans' belief in the importance of education to our economy." A poll conducted last spring for the state Republican party also indicated that Ohio residents were more concerned about education and jobs than about taxes.
Richard C. Murray, director of the $2.2-million opposition campaign, echoed Mr. Bowers's evaluation, saying, "Education cut the deepest" of the issues raised by those who favored retaining the tax package and enactment process.
The 90-percent increase in the income tax, enacted in March at the urging of Gov. Richard F. Celeste to close a $528-million budget gap he inherited, followed several years of temporary taxes and instability in state school funding. Of the $3.75 billion raised by the tax increase, nearly half went to schools, colleges, and local governments.
As recently as mid-October, public-opinion surveys indicated that the two anti-tax initiatives, which were placed on the ballot via petition, would pass handily. But around that time, Ohioans to Stop Excessive Taxation (set), the major pro-repeal group, ran out of money and suspended its advertising. In the final weeks of the campaign, the state's education, labor, and human-service organizations mobilized to combat the two ballot issues, stressing links between education and economic development and the threat that more regressive sales and property taxes would be raised to make up for the lost income-tax revenue.
Issue 3, if adopted, would have thrown public schools and colleges into "utter chaos," state education officials had predicted, after they had finally attained some stability and predictability in their budgets. The Governor's Office of Budget and Management said the fiscal 1985 budget for elementary and secondary education would have been trimmed by $637 million, leaving the state contribution at its 1980 level of $1.9 billion.
Proponents of the initiatives asserted that the schools had not been the major beneficiaries of the tax increase and would not necessarily be the major victims of repeal. Governor Celeste's allies countered that few other budget items could be cut.
According to the most recent figures available from the National Education Association, Ohio public schools spend an average of $2,807 per pupil--about $100 less than the national average and considerably less than the average for industrial states. The state's contribution is also below the national average, making up about 43 percent of district revenues from state and local sources.
Local school issues in Ohio also fared relatively well last week. Of 153 levies appearing on local ballots, 77 were approved, including those in Cleveland and Cincinnati. The 50.3-percent approval rate was the second-highest for a November ballot in a decade, according to state officials.
The Cleveland levy was the first approved in the city in 13 years. The 9-mill levy will give the district about $33 million annually in new revenue, or an increase of 13 percent over the current annual budget of about $250 million. The new money will pay for a 9.5-percent average salary increase for teachers (their first raise in three years); computers and other instructional equipment; new programs; and long-deferred building repairs.
Clevelanders also elected three new school-board members from a field of eight candidates. The winners were: Joseph M. Gallagher, a 35-year veteran of the board; Mildred Madison, who has served on the city council, on the state board of education, and as president of the Cleveland League of Women Voters; and Ralph J. Perk Jr., a former city councilman whose father was mayor of Cleveland from 1971 to 1977. Berthina E. Palmer and Kenneth Seminatore chose not to run for re-election to the school board.