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STATE OF THE STATE In address, Taft targets job programs, economy

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

A task force will try to save jobs at air bases, including one in the Mahoning Valley.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Making Ohio more competitive through job programs and pro-business legislation dominated Gov. Bob Taft's sixth State of the State address today.
The noon address, two years into Taft's second four-year term, was planned as a series of proposals for boosting the state's improving but still troubled economy, especially the anemic manufacturing sector.
Taft, 62, a Republican, faces the challenge of persuading lawmakers to pass a key element of his plan -- limiting injury lawsuits against businesses -- at a time House Republicans have shown reluctance to move on such legislation.
"We are battling for our economic survival," Taft said in prepared remarks.
Taft announced the creation of a committee to help communities trying to save military jobs threatened by federal base-closing proposals. The All-Ohio Task Force to Save Defense Jobs will focus on more than 38,000 jobs at risk at bases in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lima, Springfield and at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna.
Jobs bill
The governor also announced a jobs bill he will send soon to lawmakers that would guarantee workers trained by the state to companies creating 100 or more jobs in Ohio. He also proposed doubling the state commitment to job training programs that match companies' own training programs.
"Two years from now, I want to report that we have trained 200,000 more people in the skills of tomorrow," Taft said in his remarks.
He asked lawmakers to work together to change the state's tax code and announced plans to create a nonprofit company to help market and promote the state's economic pluses.
"Let's make sure that the rest of the world knows what you and I already know -- that Ohio is the best place in America to live, to work and raise a family," Taft said in his remarks.
Seeking action
Taft also echoed several themes he raised last month in a speech to Ohio manufacturers, urging lawmakers to:
U Limit pain-and-suffering awards in lawsuits brought against companies.
UPut a moratorium on any new health insurance mandates that could drive up employers' costs.
U Clarify when injured workers can sue over workplace accidents.
"There's reason for cautious optimism, based on what we're starting to see nationally, but we can't stand still and assume it will happen in Ohio," said Taft spokesman Orest Holubec.
If past experience is any measure, the governor may have difficulty getting the recommendations enacted.
Taft called for comprehensive tax changes last year, only to have lawmakers largely ignore it. They also discounted his 2001 school-funding proposal in favor of their own plan.
Lawmakers passed the governor's 2002 proposal for the $1.6 billion Third Frontier Project, but voters in November rejected a plan to let Ohio borrow $500 million of the money through the sale of bonds.
The Senate passed Taft-backed legislation to limit lawsuits against companies, but House Republicans are taking their time, looking first for evidence of a problem.
Speaker's view
House Speaker Larry Householder said Tuesday he thinks tax change is crucial.
"We've got to have our tax structure in this state fairly represent what Ohio is today and help it promote Ohio's economy and not stand in the way," said Householder, a Republican from Glenford.
The state has lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the last three years, Taft said at the Dec. 11 speech to manufacturers.
Ohio manufacturers paint an equally gloomy figure, counting 190,000 jobs lost since the recession began in Ohio in March 2000. That figure covers a greater time period than the one cited by Taft.