Ohio Governor James Rhodes, a Republican who built his political reputation on keeping his state’s taxes among the lowest in the country, says he will support a tax increase for 1982 if it is the only way to maintain the current quality of public schools and universities.
Mr. Rhodes is expected to announce a tax proposal when the State General Assembly reconvenes in Columbus this week. Largely because of the state’s poor financial condition, the General Assembly adjourned in June without passing an education budget for fiscal 1982.
Ohio is one of about 25 states faced with real-dollar deficits for fiscal 1982-not including new responsibilities that will be shifted to the states by the Reagan Administration. But so far, Mr. Rhodes appears to be the first governor to give even tentative support to a tax increase, according to Sandra Kissick, education program director of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Governors and legislative leaders in several other states are considering less drastic ways to increase school revenues, such as easing restrictions on local property-tax limits.
In Ohio, the state pays approximately 44 percent of the cost of operating public schools, primarily out of state income, sales, and usage taxes.
Local school districts provide about 50 percent of school funds, almost exclusively from property taxes. Federal funds account for slightly over six percent.
Ohio schools have been hit particularly hard by the sagging economy, inflation, and statutory limits on local property-tax revenues.
Schools No Longer Allowed to Close
Officials of some 250 school district&-more than one-third of the state’s total-have told the Department of Education they will need emergency state loans to keep their schools open this school year unless they find a way to increase their revenues. Ohio public schools, once notorious for closing down for weeks at a time to save money, no longer have that option under a new state law.
Since all new local taxes are subject to local referendum, most districts are looking to the state for help, said Roger J. Lulow, assistant superintendent of the State Department of Education.
Only about half of the tax levies proposed by local boards of education have been passed by the voters in the past four or five years, Mr. Lulow said, compared to a 70-percent approval rate in the 1960’s.
Local school officials are anxious to hear a more concrete proposal from Mr. Rhodes and the legislature, Mr. Lulow said, so they can make plans for staffing and-in the case of several districts that have announced plans to place tax referenda on local November ballots- for levy campaigns.
“There’s been a lot of speculation,” Mr. Lulow said, “and there have been a lot of rumors, but we’re all waiting on the governor.” -P.C.
A version of this article appeared in the September 07, 1981 edition of Education Week