Ohioans to Stop Excessive Taxation (SET) filed petitions today to put two constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot that would repeal all state taxes passed this year and require that future tax increases be approved by three-fifths majorities in the legislature.
The SET campaign is seen as a major test for the taxing and spending policies of new Democratic Gov. Richard F. Celeste, the former Peace Corps director from Cleveland.
Ohio voters historically have been cool to statewide initiatives. In recent years they defeated ballot issues calling for direct election of public-utility regulators and for deposits on all beer and soft-drink containers. But SET officials predict that their issue will win because it affects voters' pocketbooks.
Celeste pushed through a 90 percent increase in the personal income tax after he inherited a $500 million deficit last January from Republican former governor James A. Rhodes.
Since Celeste took office, the corporate franchise tax paid by businesses also has been increased and the base of the state's 5 percent sales tax has been expanded to include data processing services purchased by businesses.
The drive to put the issues on the ballot brought a two-day visit to Ohio from economist Arthur Laffer, the supply-side advocate from the University of Southern California.
Laffer warned that the new taxes would lead the state into a "longtime" economic decline. So far the national economic recovery has been felt only faintly in Ohio and unemployment is still high, expected to average about 13 percent this year.
While Rhodes has remained silent, his former budget director, Republican Howard Collier, has agreed to chair a committee opposing the amendments.
Repeal of the taxes would paralyze state government and could produce "chaos," Collier said.
Celeste, whose popularity has dipped because of the tax increases and several public relations blunders, is staying in the background as the battle develops. He has spent this week at the Ohio State Fair.
Ohio Secretary of State Sherrod Brown, a Democrat and the state's top elections officer, said the amendments almost certainly will qualify for the ballot. The signatures of 335,672 registered voters are needed, and each proposal was supported by more than 500,000 signatures.
Normally, 10 percent to 15 percent of the signatures on such petitions are ruled invalid, Brown said.