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Government and Politics




Year in review: Democrats were the big -- but not only -- losers in the Statehouse
Ohio laws that never saw light include the governor's severance tax and regulation of internet cafes
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE CORRESPONDENT BILL COHEN
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter
Bill Cohen
 
The drilling in Ohio is largely based in Caroll and Colombiana county. Gov. Kasich says drillers should pay more to access Ohio's resources.
Courtesy of Tim Rudell
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In The Region:

Just because a state legislator or governor introduces a bill doesn’t mean it becomes law. And 2012 saw many examples of that in the Ohio General Assembly. Our statehouse correspondent Bill Cohen reports on some major proposals that never made it out of the proposal stage.

COHEN: What didn't pass but might be back

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For the second straight year, though the Ohio Senate and House are dominated by Republicans, both chambers ignored Gov. John Kasich’s plan to hike the severance tax on oil and gas.

Republican lawmakers seem to agree with gas industry lobbyist Tom Stewart, who warned that drillers may move their rigs out of Ohio if their taxes go up.

Stewart maintains. “It can Mozambique; it can off the coast of Africa, anywhere in the world.”

But environmentalists and other activists on the left want even bigger severance tax hike than Kasich is proposing. Janetta King says the industry can well-afford to pay more, and it’s too invested in Ohio’s shale boom and profits to move now.

“The benefits should not be transferred out of state or allowed to flow down a one-way street in the direction of big oil.”

Kasich tried to sell his own tax hike plan by vowing that every new dollar raised would go toward a state income tax cut for everyone. But that upset Democrats, who see an income tax cut as favoring the rich. And so, with opposition from the political right and left, the governor’s proposed tax shift went nowhere; even though a state-wide poll showed Ohioans backed it 2-1.

Surcharge unplugged
Another proposal on the energy front also fizzled this year. The electric company, First Energy, proposed that Ohio scrap its energy efficiency program. It tacks a surcharge onto customer’s bills and then uses the money to pay incentives to people and companies to buy energy saving appliances and equipment.

The Akron-based utility argued the incentives have cost it half a billion dollars and that consumers are already energy conscious without the incentives.

But Sierra Club leader Jed Thorp successfully argued that for every dollar in surcharges, customers save three. 

“Regardless of whether or not you directly get a rebate for a new washing machine or a new refrigerator, these programs are bringing down electric rates for everybody in Ohio.”

Gov. Kasich hinted he agrees and the plug was pulled on the idea of scrapping the energy efficiency program

Democrats fizzle
With Democrats in the minority in the Statehouse, many of their ideas stalled this year. That included a measure to outlaw discrimination in hiring those who don’t already have jobs. Denise XXX, has said employers don’t even give her a chance to plead for a job.

“Once you tell someone you have been off for two or three months, they have a tendency to not want to hire you, because you haven’t been employed for a while. You can tell it in the tone of their voice and look in their face.”

But Republicans shelved the idea of making discrimination a violation of Ohio’s civil rights law. One reason: business advocates say it isn’t much of a problem. And they say companies may have good reason to fear unemployed people might have rusty job skills or a deteriorating work ethic.

Rainy day no more?
Ohio is building up hundreds of millions in its rainy day fund. So unions and Democrats called for some of that to offset layoffs and spending cuts at local schools and governments, which got hit hard by cuts in state funding.

“The rainy day fund is growing, and it is raining in local communities,” says Jay McDonald of the Fraternal Order of Police.

But once again most Republicans ignored the idea to death. GOP State Rep. John Adams gave the rationale

“The track record is lousy over the last 40 years, taking taxpayer dollars and just blowing and not saving it for a rainy day.”

Internet  cafes escape, for now
As the legislative session drew to a close, critics of Ohio’s 800 internet cafes and sweepstakes storefronts convinced the House to pass a bill to put them out of business. The attorney general, prosecutors and police called them fronts for illegal gambling that are going untaxed while raking in big bucks. But state senators stalled the crackdown. Rep. Bill Coley is worried about jobs at the storefronts being destroyed – and jobs going with them.

Still, it is a safe bet the issue of regulating or killing off the internet cafes will re-surface next year.


Related WKSU Stories

Year in review: Ohio lawmakers tackle slavery, exotic animals, public retirement
Monday, December 31, 2012

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