By John McCarthy
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell on Friday proposed a repeal of a penny-per-dollar sales tax increase the Legislature approved last spring and will try to take the idea to voters next year if lawmakers don't approve it.
Gov. Bob Taft's office and Ohio Republican Chairman Robert Bennett immediately condemned the plan. Blackwell was not available to respond, a spokesman said.
Blackwell, in his second term as Ohio's chief elections officer, said in a statement that the repeal would "set in motion a new course for Ohio that will change the way state government does business."
Blackwell said he would try to collect the 96,870 signatures he needs to put the issue on the November 2004 ballot, then proceed if the Legislature does not repeal the tax. The number represents 3 percent of the total votes cast in the 2002 election for governor.
The increase took the state sales tax from 5 cents a dollar to 6 cents. It is set to expire on June 30, 2005. However, some lawmakers worry it will be allowed to become permanent. Tax officials project the tax will raise $2.5 billion over two years.
Blackwell said Ohioans are losing their jobs and it's no time to raise taxes. He said the state has enough resources without the increase.
"We are going to impose fiscal discipline that puts hardworking Ohioans ahead of the gaping, cavernous mouth of state government," Blackwell said.
Taft would work against the repeal because the money is needed for schools and other programs, spokesman Orest Holubec said.
"Governor Taft believes this is a reckless and irresponsible ploy that places our children and seniors at risk," Holubec said.
Bennett was more blunt toward his fellow Republican.
"Our party has a responsibility to support its elected leaders during these difficult times, not publicly stab them in the back for political expedience," Bennett said.
Blackwell's proposal is meant to attract attention to a campaign for governor in 2006, said Scott Pullins, chairman of the anti-tax Ohio Taxpayers Association. Blackwell balked at supporting a 1995 effort by Pullins to put on the ballot an issue that would have required a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to pass a tax increase, Pullins said.
"We think the Blackwell thing is a gimmick to try to get him elected," Pullins said.
Blackwell has acknowledged he is considering a run for governor.
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