Analysis: Bonds for environment, tech jobs lacked 60% vote

State

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Requiring 60% of Ohio voters to approve constitutional amendments could jeopardize future state efforts to attract jobs, improve highways, schools and parks, provide low-cost housing access and protect the environment, a former newspaper executive and state lawmaker warned Thursday.

Speaking at a Statehouse news conference, former Columbus Dispatch Associate Publisher and Democratic state Rep. Mike Curtin said the bond issues that have paid for such programs over the years rarely passed by the 60% threshold now being advanced by a group of Statehouse conservatives.

“Given Ohioans’ historic skepticism toward government debt, persuading voters to approve new bonded indebtedness programs has required strong bipartisan support, business-labor agreement and an easily understood purpose,” Curtin said. “Yet even when all those conditions are met, winning approval from Ohio voters is a challenging task – requiring a comprehensive, energetic campaign of voter education.”

Curtin presented an analysis of bond issues since 1980, which showed that only two-thirds — 12 of 18 — had passed under the current 50%-plus-one simple majority requirement. Had a supermajority been required, only eight of the 18 would have passed, the review found. Curtin said two additional bond issues that barely exceeded 60% — for parks, recreation and natural resources in 1993, and for school construction in 1999 — probably wouldn’t reach that level of support in the current politically divided climate.

He called the impact on bond measures an unintended consequence of the Ohio proposal, whose already long list of opponents Curtin said appears to be “strong and growing.” The technology-based Third Frontier economic development program launched in 2005 with 54.1% of the vote, after initially failing in 2003. Amendment 1, bonds for environmental conservation, passed in 2000 with 57.4%. Bonds for low-cost housing assistance were approved twice — in 1982 and 1990 — with between 50% and 60% of the vote.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose and GOP state Rep. Brian Stewart announced a resolution to put the 60% question before voters in November, amid the whirlwind final weeks of the last legislative session.

LaRose said requiring a 60% supermajority to amend Ohio’s constitution would be “a win for good government,” assuring a broad base of support to make changes to the state’s founding document and making it more difficult for amendments backed by well-funded interest groups to succeed. It comes as proponents of abortion rights, redistricting reform and recreational marijuana are eyeing ballot campaigns in the GOP-controlled state.

“The secretary strongly feels changes to something as significant as our state constitution should require a broad consensus for approval,” spokesman Rob Nichols said in response to a request for comment. “We believe the best way to do that is by increasing the threshold necessary for passage, but we’re open to other ideas if they achive the same result.”

Stewart’s resolution died for a lack of votes. It initially appeared to be off the table this session, as part of a negotiation with Democrats that landed Republican Jason Stephens a surprise victory as House speaker. But it was reintroduced this month at the behest of a GOP break-off group.

Republican efforts to toughen rules for passing citizen-led ballot initiatives are part of a several-year trend that gained steam as Democratic-aligned groups have increasingly used petitions to force public votes on issues that GOP-led legislatures have opposed. Beyond Ohio, it also has been announced as a Republican legislative priority in Missouri this session.