Thursday, November 02, 2000

Taft hits road for Issue 1

By Debra Jasper
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Gov. Bob Taft on Wednesday traveled to five Ohio cities stumping for State Issue 1, saying the $400 million bond issue is needed to preserve green space and clean up abandoned industrial sites.

        “Next Tuesday we have the opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity to protect the environment for generations to come,” Mr. Taft told a dozen or so people who had gathered in a park near downtown Columbus.

        If approved on Nov. 7, Issue 1 would allow the state to float $400 million in bonds over four years to clean up contaminated inner-city property and protect parks, rivers and farmland. The bond money would be split, with $200 million going for conservation projects and $200 million going to clean up blighted urban land called “brownfields.”

        In an effort to ensure pas sage, backers put a $600,000 ad campaign on the air last week promoting the bond issue. In the ads, Mr. Taft makes it clear that Issue 1 involves no new taxes because about half the money will come from liquor profits and the rest from general revenue bonds.

        Mark Weaver, spokesman for Issue 1, said a campaign poll completed Sunday shows the ballot issue will pass easily — with 60 percent of voters favoring it.

        Despite the support, however, Ohio Citizen Action, the Ohio Sierra Club and other groups still hope to defeat the measure. They say nothing in the ballot language prevents the bond money from being used as a “slush fund” to bail out polluters.

        Jane Forrest Redfern, environmental projects director at Ohio Citizen Action, said bond money could also be used to prop up an Ohio EPA which allows polluters to clean up brownfields without enough oversight or public input.

        She noted that much of the financial support for the Issue 1 campaign comes from industrial and development interests that plan to compete for money generated by the bond issue.

        In addition, a Citizen Action analysis shows that bond attorneys and financial companies that could most benefit from the ballot issue gave $3.7 million in campaign contributions between 1997 and 1999 to Mr. Taft and other statewide officials with influence over who will be chosen to oversee the bonds.

        In all, the report suggested that 38 law firms, banks and other institutions, some of them representing polluters or who themselves own brownfield sites, have influenced how Issue 1 will be carried out.

        “The major campaign contributors to Issue 1 may give voters an indication of who is lining up to get these funds,” Ms. Redfern said. “We believe this is going to be a bailout for polluters, many of whom have contributed to the Issue 1 campaign. ...”

        Gov. Taft, who stopped in Cincinnati during his state tour Wednesday, disputed that assessment, saying Issue 1 “will not let polluters off the hook.” In many cases, he said, the parties responsible for the pollution can't be found and Ohio cities need state help getting abandoned sites cleaned up.

        Mr. Taft also dismissed questions about contributions to the Issue 1 campaign. “I don't think it's important where the the small amount of money we've been able to raise is coming from. What's important is what Issue 1 will do,” he said.


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