STATE OF THE STATE What Taft didn't say also draws attention

Some said Taft should have spoke about more than the economy and jobs
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Gov. Bob Taft got as much attention for what he didn't say in his State of the State speech as for what he did.
Taft, a Republican, failed to mention the effort by Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to repeal the state's penny sales-tax increase.
"In many ways, it was a missed opportunity," said Mark Hatch, spokesman for several public employee unions that oppose the repeal. He said Taft should have exposed Blackwell's effort as "political posturing."
Blackwell, a fellow Republican expected to run for governor in 2006, sat a few feet away from Taft during the governor's 31-minute address focusing mainly on jobs. He criticized Taft almost immediately afterward for being "in cahoots" with public employee unions to oppose the repeal.
Taft opposes an early repeal of the one penny sales-tax increase, due to expire in July 2005, saying it will hurt the state budget.
Puzzled by absence
Sen. Jim Jordan, an Urbana Republican in favor of repealing the tax increase, was puzzled by the issue's absence from a speech about jobs and the economy.
"It's more of a surprise that the leader of your state doesn't bring it up, when everybody knows that's the big issue in front of the General Assembly and state government right now," Jordan said.
The governor has addressed the tax repeal and his opposition many times previously, spokesman Orest Holubec said Thursday.
"He made a conscious decision to focus on jobs and the economy -- that's what people are concerned about right now," Holubec said. "You ask any legislator, he or she would have a suggestion on what he should mention."
Taft did the right thing in not discussing the tax repeal effort, said Melanie Blumberg, a political science professor at Pennsylvania's California University who studies Ohio politics.
"Sometimes if you ignore things, it's better," said Blumberg. "If you defend it, then you keep the issue alive."
Questions from Dems
Democrats questioned why Taft didn't say more about colleges and universities and their role in creating jobs.
"With nary a word about higher education and public education, it speaks volumes to those of us who stand ready and willing to use our capacity as legislators to invest more in Ohio's public school system," said Rep. Chris Redfern of Port Clinton, the highest ranking Democrat in the GOP-controlled House.
Taft did call for boosting college enrollment by 25 percent over 10 years and referred to a committee he formed last year to study higher education and the economy.
Business groups were pleased with Taft's speech, and especially its focus on programs to help companies train workers.
Ty Pine, a small business representative, praised Taft's emphasis on jobs. But he would also have liked some mention of reducing state spending, which can affect companies in the form of higher taxes.
"He did talk about budget woes, he did talk about tax reform, but integral in that, in our members' minds, has to be control for government spending," said Pine, state director of the Ohio chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.
"You can create a tax system that might be fair and simple, but if rates are so high because you can't control spending, that's not going to make Ohio more competitive," he said.
Holubec said Taft has reduced the state's overall operating budget by more than $1 billion and reduced more than 3,000 state positions, a point the governor has made repeatedly in the past.