The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that an attempt to repeal a 2009 levy in a school district in central Ohio will not be on the ballot this fall.
But Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler there was a lot at stake with this issue even before voters saw it. =
The repeal targeted an 11.7 mill levy passed in Westerville in suburban Columbus in 2009 – it replaced two levies that totaled 11.7 mills that were passed in the 1970s. Taxpayers For Westerville Schools wanted that 2009 levy tossed under a largely unknown state law that says levies that increase a tax’s rate could be subject to repeal by voters. But the unanimous decision that the repeal won’t be on the ballot is a huge relief to the district, and to other groups that joined in the fight. Hollie Reedy is with the Ohio School Boards Association.
“Not just the Westerville City School District would be affected by an adverse ruling in this case. We recognize that school districts across the state of Ohio would be subjected to a potential problem if this case was interpreted in the way that the petitioners were asking.”
The petitioners were represented by Maurice Thompson with the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, an offshoot of the conservative think-tank the Buckeye Institute. And he says the group was hoping for the go-ahead with this repeal so that others might follow.
“The court’s decision as a policy matter just kind of stresses how difficult it is for these volunteer taxpayer groups to fight back when their own government in this case will use their own tax dollars to try to keep them off of the ballot.”
The rarely-used law says citizens can try to repeal levies that increase a tax’s rate. But the court ruled that these two levies didn’t increase the rate. The school district and its allies had also argued that such repeals attempts launched by well-organized groups over and over could throw budgets into chaos. Thompson says that’s a policy argument, not a legal one – and besides, he says, districts aren’t the only ones who need stability in budgets.
“You know who else needs that same certainty in their budgeting year to year is taxpayers. Right now in Ohio school districts are allowed to put tax increases on the ballot up to three times per year. So if you’re a homeowner, here you are seeing your taxes increase, you vote no over and over again, and yet they get you the third time in a year or come after you more than once a year.”
Reedy says the financial issue is a real one, but there are legal ones here too.
“There are certainly legal issues that we get into regarding the legislative intent and the unambiguous language of the statute. But certainly the effect of an adverse ruling could affect a district’s ability to plan for their short-term, long-term budget needs.”
The Ohio School Boards Association estimates 46 school districts would have been affected if the court allowed the repeal to go to the ballot in Westerville, where voters had just seen a difficult levy battle in March. Thompson says if this repeal had gotten the green light, it would have been the first time in recent history that such a measure would have been on a ballot – and it likely wouldn’t have been the last.