Thursday, January 23, 2003

Taft turns to a favorite tool

Governor names commission to study higher education and technology

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Gov. Bob Taft, known for his love of memos and attention to detail, has turned to a familiar political tool for his latest mission: reforming higher education.

For at least the fourth time in his administration, Mr. Taft will create a commission to study a problem.

The Governor's Commission on Higher Education and the Economy is to recommend ways to eliminate unnecessary duplication, increase the use of technology and determine how public universities best support the state's economy.

State funding for higher education was cut $241 million over the past two years as public colleges and universities competed with primary and secondary education for support.

A commission helps a governor achieve several things, said Robert Adams, a Wright State University political scientist.

"It buys you some time; and in a more substantive way, it buys you some information and priorities, which I think is especially important now when the state is facing financial challenges," he said.

Mr. Taft, a Republican, turned often to commissions in his first term to get bills passed. His Student Success Commission led to an overhaul of Ohio's proficiency tests.

This year, he will push for legislation stemming from his Commission on Teaching Success and has already been promised support from House and Senate leaders.

A task force on urban revitalization led to creation of the Clean Ohio Fund, and $400 million in state spending on preserving the environment and cleaning up abandoned industrial sites.

"You build the foundation if you're going to produce major change," Mr. Taft said. "You just can't come up with something and propose it - you want to do the spade work first."

Former Gov. George Voinovich also looked to commissions to study policy issues. One, on the operation of state government, led to recommendations on improving how state agencies function.

Another, on primary and secondary education, led to the Cleveland school voucher program, recently declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the results of another Voinovich panel, on higher education, fell on deaf ears with such recommendations as closing certain law schools at Ohio's public universities.

Sen. Gregory DiDonato said Mr. Taft may be overusing commissions. Mr. DiDonato, the top-ranking Senate Democrat, said higher education's problems are well known and have been studied to death.

"I look on this as government dodging its responsibility and nothing but a stall tactic," said Mr. DiDonato, of New Philadelphia.

But Mr. Taft said it wouldn't make sense to make policy without bringing as many people together as possible.

"You want to make sure the communities affected understand what you're trying to do and are supportive of what you're trying to do," he said. "Otherwise you may come out with a recommendation that sits on a shelf."

Text of Gov. Taft's State of the State speech
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