COLUMBUS -- Amid a struggling Ohio employment picture, Gov. Bob Taft called for new economic

COLUMBUS -- Amid a struggling Ohio employment picture, Gov. Bob Taft called for new economic development tools and boosts in worker training in his sixth State of the State address.
& quot;With every decision we make, every bill we pass, every budget we approve, we must ask ourselves - how are we improving Ohio's climate for jobs? & quot; the Republican Taft told a joint session of the Legislature and a packed audience Wednesday at the Statehouse.
In his 30-minute speech, the governor said he will soon be sending state lawmakers a & quot;Jobs Bill & quot; that would extend the maximum term of the Ohio enterprise zone, a program that allows companies property tax breaks based on the promise of creating jobs, from 10 years to 15 years.
The soon-to-be introduced bill, would also expand the Job Creation Tax Credit program, which provides corporate franchise or state income tax credits to businesses, to include insurance companies.
Taft said he would also create a so-called & quot;Jobs Cabinet & quot; to focus on regulatory reform and to help companies find skilled workers and a state task force to help communities with federal military installations in their areas to market the bases during the federal 2005 Base Realignment Closure Commission process.
The 13-member jobs cabinet will be chaired by Ohio Development Director Bruce Johnson and is to be made up of state officials including the directors of the state departments of agriculture, commerce, transportation, natural resources, education and the state tax commissioner.
The so-called Task Force to Save Defense Jobs will help support local campaigns to save military installations in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lima, Springfield and Youngstown.
The task force will be made chaired by Miles C. Durfey, a retired U.S. Air Force major general, and will be made up of economic-development, business and military officials from across the state, including Reid Dulberger, executive vice president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
In addition, Taft is calling for $1 million in new state assistance to local communities to help them market the bases.
That's on top of $1.5 million in state money awarded earlier this month to five Ohio communities to help them preserve their bases including Youngstown.
& quot;I'm pleased to be representing the Mahoning Valley, & quot; Dulberger said.
& quot;It's evidence of an ongoing effort of support from the state. & quot;
The so-called BRAC process is to try and come up with an estimated 25 percent reduction in military bases in the United States.
Taft also called for the launching of a & quot;Worker Guarantee & quot; Program to provide services such as recruiting, training and screening of employees to companies that create at least 100 new jobs.
The governor's address, interrupted by applause at least 26 times, comes as Ohio has faced a declining employment picture even as the job picture improves nationally.
Ohio's unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in November, up from 5.6 percent the previous month, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said in the latest statistics available.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 5.9 percent in November, down from 6 percent in October, ODJFS said.
& quot;We are battling for our economic survival, & quot; Taft said.
To improve the state's business climate, Taft also called for legislative passage of bills that would reduce the use of drugs and alcohol in the work place and reform the state's civil litigation system.
The governor also called for lawmakers to work on reforming the state's tax laws and for continued support of his Third Frontier Project to stimulate high-tech jobs in the state's capital and tobacco settlement budgets, expected to be crafted later this year.
The governor also called for a moratorium on new health insurance mandates during this legislative session. Taft said his insurance director, former Republican congressional candidate Ann Womer Benjamin, will be recommending steps that Ohio can take to small-business employees get the health-care benefits they need.
Taft made special mention of state Rep. John A. Boccieri, a New Middletown Democrat and a U.S. Air Force reservist who has been called to active duty in support of the U.S. military conflict in Iraq.
& quot;Please join me in saluting all of our troops and their families for their sacrifice in defending freedom around the world, & quot; Taft said to applause and an ovation from the audience.
Majority Republicans that control the Legislature said Taft's proposals will be considered.
& quot;I think that everything the governor proposed are reasonable things that we can move forward on, & quot; said House Speaker Larry Householder, a Glenford Republican.
But minority Democratic leaders panned the address as not being responsive to job losses that have plagued Ohio, particularly the state's manufacturing sector.
In a recent report, Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland-based research organization, said Ohio lost 132,000 jobs from November 2001, when many economists say the national recession ended, to November 2003.
& quot;Some of the things he's proposed today is the same old rhetoric, & quot; said Senate Minority Leader Gregory L. DiDonato, a Dennison Democrat.
Area lawmakers were mixed on Taft's speech.
State Sen. Robert F. Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, was critical of the governor's address.
& quot;I think it's absolutely unconscionable for a governor to be talking about tax breaks for insurance companies when 11 to 12 percent of citizens are without health insurance, & quot; Hagan said.
State Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood, a Niles Democrat, said she believes the Legislature should have moved on tax reform last year.
& quot;Not one word was mentioned about school funding and it's still an issue, & quot; Harwood said.
Since 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court has held four times that the state's method of paying for public schools is unconstitutional and that an over reliance on property taxes has caused disparities between & quot;rich & quot; and & quot;poor & quot; school systems.
Taft has appointed a task force to study the issue and has urged state lawmakers to reform the funding system.
Democratic state Reps. Sylvester Patton of Youngstown, Kenneth A. Carano of Austintown and Republican state Rep. Charles Blasdel of East Liverpool said they supported Taft's initiative to help communities save military bases.