Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Hagan attacks Taft on economy

Gov. returns fire on gambling

By Debra Jasper
Columbus Enquirer Bureau

DAYTON, Ohio - Democratic candidate Tim Hagan came out swinging Tuesday, opening the first gubernatorial debate by saying bankruptcies are up, property taxes are up, prescription drugs are up and people are fed up under Gov. Bob Taft's leadership.

“We have a $4 billion budget crisis,” Mr. Hagan said. “We have that, Bob, because of your failure to lead.” He said Mr. Taft's legacy is that Ohio is 41st out of 50 states in the number of college graduates and 48th out of 50 states in the number of new businesses. “Can you imagine the seventh biggest state in the union, 11 million strong, being compared to Louisiana and Mississippi?” he said.

Mr. Taft returned fire, saying in his opening statement that Mr. Hagan is wrong to be pessimistic about Ohio's future. “He doesn't believe we're up for solving the problems that face us,” Mr. Taft said, looking at Mr. Hagan. “Tim, you are wrong. Dead wrong."

Mr. Taft criticized Mr. Hax gan for opposing the death penalty, for favoring legalizing drugs in certain cases, for being anti-business and for endorsing a plan to expand gambling in Ohio.

“My opponent offers a risky budget scheme with billions of dollars in new spending,” Mr. Taft said. “Who do you think will pay the bill?"

During the debate, broadcast live on public television stations in Cincinnati and across the state, the candidates touched on the economy, taxes, the state's growing budget deficit and the high cost of prescription drugs.

The governor touted his plan to give a Golden Buckeye card to every senior citizen, a card he says can lower drug costs by 10 percent to 25 percent.

Highlights of the televised debate Tuesday between Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, and Tim Hagan, a Democrat.
The economy
Mr. Taft blames a sour economy, Medicaid costs the state does not control and a drop in state revenue.
Mr. Hagan has proposed placing video slot machines at Ohio's seven racetracks as a way to raise more revenue. Mr. Taft opposes it.
Mr. Taft wants to wait until revenue projections for next year are available before deciding what to do next.
Neither candidate rules out an across-the-board tax increase, but not without a statewide vote.
School funding
Mr. Taft defended his record on school construction.
Mr. Hagan said the Ohio Supreme Court has said there is an over-reliance on local property taxes.
Death penalty
Mr. Taft supports it. Mr. Hagan opposes it.
Mr. Hagan accused Mr. Taft of settling for a prescription-drug discount program that falls short.
Mr. Taft responded that the program would have deep price discounts.
The Associated Press

“Our senior citizens are hurting. Some of them are going to Canada (to buy medicine at lower prices) or they are cutting a pill in half or doing without medicines,” Mr. Taft said. “We need to do something."

Mr. Hagan responded that the governor might as well give people a baseball card. He said the Golden Buckeye Card is really a “sugar pill to try to make seniors think you are on their side."

He told Mr. Taft that if he really wanted to lower prescription drugs he should take on big drug companies. “You live in a different world than I do. You haven't taken on the drug companies like the governors of Maine or Hawaii,” Mr. Hagan said. “It's outrageous for you to talk about a Golden Buckeye Card when you know full well you will not take on the prescription drug companies."

Mr. Hagan also defended his plan - which the governor called a “risky budget scheme"- to expand gambling to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to help balance the budget. Mr. Hagan said Ohio already has gambling in the form of a lottery and racetracks. He said the state is losing gambling money to Indiana and West Virginia.

“Take your head out of the sand. People understand there is gambling (in Ohio),” Mr. Hagan said. “People in other states are using our money to educate their kids."

During the first part of the debate, candidates took questions from journalists from across Ohio. When asked why he can't push through his agenda in a legislature controlled by his own Republican party, Mr. Taft replied that Republican legislators weren't happy that he vetoed 49 items in their last budget bill.

“I vetoed them because I thought they were bad for Ohio. I've stood up, and I've led,” he said.

Mr. Hagan noted that Republican Speaker Larry Householder and Republican Senate President Richard Finan have criticized the governor's leadership. “I sit here in amusement that now you are attacking your Republican Party,” Mr. Hagan said.

On the leadership issue, Mr. Taft criticized Mr. Hagan for saying business leaders should fear Mr. Hagan's election. The governor said Mr. Hagan's anti-business attitude would hurt Ohio's ability to recruit new businesses. “You can't do what Tim is doing. You can't bash businesses,” he said. “You can't get things done that way."

Mr. Hagan said the only businesses that should fear him are the ones who are trying to duck paying their fair share of taxes. “If they don't, who pays? Small businesses and individuals,” he said. He said he has declined to say which business taxes he would raise to prevent the “lobbyists with their Gucci shoes” from fighting his proposals.

Mr. Taft also condemned Mr. Hagan's stance against the death penalty, noting Mr. Hagan said he would have opposed executing Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh. “I have carried out the death penalty as the law requires. My opponent would commute every single death penalty case,” Mr. Taft said.

Mr. Hagan said he opposes the death penalty for moral reasons. “If somebody were to harm my wife or children, somebody would have to hold me back from attacking the SOB,” he said. “But that's emotion. The government should act with reason. If somebody has created a terrible crime, give them life in prison and throw the key away."

On education, Mr. Hagan criticized Mr. Taft for cutting aid to higher education and allowing tuition to go up at every state university in Ohio. “That's unacceptable,” he said. Mr. Taft responded that in his first two years in office the state invested $100 million to freeze tuitions at community colleges and gave families income tax breaks for college tuition.

Still, he said, “I'm not satisfied with our tuition or our budget under recessionary pressures."

Mr. Taft said he would increase funding for higher education in the next budget and propose reinstating caps on tuition increases.

Political experts say the debates - there will be two more in the next two weeks - are especially critical for Mr. Hagan, who needs to improve his name recognition. The debates might be critical for Mr. Hagan for another reason. Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot that asks voters to send thousands of Ohio drug offenders into treatment instead of prison say they may switch tactics and fund television ads attacking the governor.

That decision will hinge in part on whether voters see Mr. Hagan, who supports the initiative, as the big winner of Tuesday's debate.

“We're looking to see if (Mr.) Hagan catches fire coming out of this,"said Dave Fratello, the drug treatment campaign's political director. Mr. Taft is one of the most vocal opponents of the initiative.

The next debate is slated for Oct. 23 in Columbus at the John Glenn Institute.Reporter Spencer Hunt contributed.


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