By John McCarthy
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - The Legislature handed Gov. Bob Taft a convenient way to veto a proposed change in the politically volatile E-check emissions testing program.
The $4.7 billion transportation budget includes the exemption of more new cars from the testing. It lacks any way to pay for the estimated $29 million in fees that will be lost by the contractor conducting the tests.
E-check is controversial among drivers and a hot-button issue among voters in the 14 counties where the testing is required. Some cars have been damaged by the rollers used to simulate speed at testing centers. Some people object to the $19.95 fee or the idea of being forced to have their cars tested.
The state now exempts cars 2 years old and newer. The House proposed changing that cutoff to 5 years and putting a 50-cent-a-day tax on rental cars to pay for the lost fees. The tax wasn't included in the final version of the bill.
Taft vetoed the provision on Monday when he signed the bill.
"The governor had concerns with the provision in its original version and he had more concerns in the new version," Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said.
Taft also vetoed a plan to give the state authority to sell as lumber the fallen and damaged trees from an ice storm that hit the Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio in February. That would tie up money needed to clean up the damage, the governor said.
The governor and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Chris Jones lobbied against the E-check exemption. They fear that if pollution increases because the testing is cut back, the federal government will order factories and power plants to reduce emissions.
E-check opponent Rep. Bryan Williams, a Republican from Akron, said legislative leaders knew Taft would veto the exemption but forced a vote on it anyway.
"Some of us were saying, `How can the conference committee defend the idea of putting this in without a funding mechanism?"' Williams said. "My assessment is it was an effort to put guys like me into a corner."
Williams was among Republicans who had supported the transportation budget at first but voted against it when the rental-car tax was removed.
The budget also includes a 6-cent increase in the state gasoline tax, which now is 22 cents a gallon. Fifteen GOP lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House voted against the bill.
Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Glenford, said he had not asked Taft if he would veto the exemption. He said one reason the rental-car tax was left out was a concern that the governor would veto the exemption but not the tax.
"Bryan asked that same question in the (Republican) caucus. I was very up front about it," Householder said.
E-check was a major reason why Williams came to Columbus in 1997. He campaigned successfully against incumbent Democrat Karen Doty by portraying her as an E-check supporter.
Williams is serving his final term in the House. He is running for Akron mayor this fall against incumbent Democrat Don Plusquellic.
Ron Young, a Republican from Painesville, narrowly defeated incumbent Ray Sines in the 1996 GOP primary and won the general election. He, too, made E-check the cornerstone of his campaign. Young also switched his vote to no on the final version of the transportation budget last week.
The E-check uproar is difficult for some lawmakers outside the 14 counties to understand, Williams said. "Most people are in politically safe districts and really don't care about the issue," he said.
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