Oral arguments were made before the Ohio Supreme Court over whether the voters will have any say on the matter of Video Lottery Terminals at racetracks.
The lottery slots proponents argue that the people do not have the right to a referendum in the matter because appropriations are immune from referendum, and that the slots proposal is an appropriation because the money provided by slots has already been spent on education. Furthermore, the slots proponents argue that under Ohio’s Constitution, the lottery commission has always possessed the authority to implement the slots plan.
Referendum backers argue that the slots proposal is not an appropriation. It is a mechanism for raising revenue, and thus is not immune from referendum. The referendum backers deny that the Ohio Constitution, alone, grants the authority to implement the slots plan, and the evidence cited is that the authority is only granted by way of HB1, the biennial budget, thus, without explicit legislation granting that authority, the lottery commission does NOT possess the authority. Appropriations laws are temporary, because they expend money only for a biennium. The portion of HB1’s legislation that authorizes the slots, however, is a permanent change, not a change that lasts only for two years, highlighting the point that the slots proposal is not an appropriation, and is therefore not immune from referendum.
I was particularly struck by an exchange between Justice Judith Lanzinger and slots attorney Benjamin C. Mizer that occurred 32 minutes and 5 seconds into the oral arguments, wherein Justice Lanzinger suggested that Mizer was adding language to the Ohio Constitution for the sake of advancing his argument about appropriations. What struck me is how the referendum rights of the people of Ohio are limited pertaining to appropriations. At 33:18, Mizer said that Constitutional limitations on referendum power were enacted because:
” . . . we didn’t want the power of the purse to be infringed by the referendum power, and, specifically, above all, the people did not want the referendum power to be used to create fiscal instability and fiscal crisis and to tie up appropriations.”
And Mizer reiterates at the 34-minute mark the danger of allowing a referendum:
” . . . what would happen in this case is the gumming up of the works of the budget bill and tying up a 2.3 billion-dollar appropriation.”
Oh horrors! We can’t have the people stop government spending! Why, uh, . . . that could lead to . . . fiscal instability! Crisis! Mass hysteria! The Apocalypse! The extinction of humanity! The end of the world as we know it! Annihilation of the Universe!
So, we, the people, under Ohio’s Constitution, already have the deck stacked against us when it comes to checking and balancing the legislature’s fiscal policies.
The attorney for the referendum backers, Michael A. Carvin, warns that if the court accepts the argument that the slots provisions are an appropriation because the money has already been spent on education and is therefore immune to referendum, then going forward, any money-raising mechanism that the legislature can imaginatively devise can be rendered immune to referendum by spending the money on a specific line item before the money is even collected.
If that were to happen, I would find that an extremely dangerous precedent to set, as the people would have no check or balance whatsoever on whatever money the legislature chooses to confiscate from the people by whatever method.
I sincerely hope that LetOhioVote.org, the plaintiff represented by Mr. Carvin, prevails in this case.
From other blogs on this issue, for, against, and indifferent: