The Tea Party-based 1851 Center for Constitutional Law had its ballot measure to repeal a school tax levy removed by the Franklin County Board of Elections last week, but any celebration by those fighting against the 1851 Center should be considered premature.
Not only did the 1851 Center file an appeal in short order, but the Board of Elections provided a level of clarity in the effort to repeal public school funding that previously had not existed in state law. The Board of Elections provided a ruling with enough details to empower the Center to more effectively and efficiently set their sights on future levy repeal efforts throughout all of Ohio, not just with the strange anti-school funding faction that exists in Westerville.
The 1851 Center had been attempting to use an older, untested law to allow residents in the Westerville School District to repeal what they were trying to define as a “tax increase” from a few years ago that was technically a “replacement levy.” The claim centered around the premise of decreasing effective millage values due to state law that lower the effective collected amounts of school levies over time. In this manner, the 1851 Center was trying to make the case that the replacement levy, when adopted, is a tax increase because it restores the voted millage back to the original levy amount, resulting in a higher dollar figure collected. No one had set out to determine whether the law would qualify to be used in this manner until this issue was placed on the ballot, which was accomplished when the 1851 Center and a handful of unknown Westerville beneficiaries underwrote this repeal effort.
And so the Franklin County Board of Elections handed the 1851 Center the perfect roadmap for their future efforts to defund schools. Though the Board did reject this ballot measure (appeal by 1851 Center is pending), their specific clarification of how the replacement levy targeted in this repeal did not fit the appropriate parameters of the law subsequently provided language that the 1851 Center will utilize to corner other election boards into accepting such language in the future. Further, the appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court that includes the BOE’s language will force the hand of the justices to make a clear decision about this levy repeal law sooner rather than later, giving the Center an audience with the Court in the next month instead of the next few years (if ever).
Ultimately, this decision by the Board of Elections to remove the issue from the ballot provides invaluable assistance that the 1851 Center couldn’t have ever paid for through conventional means. And if the measure had been allowed to remain up to the voters and failed the Center would not have been able to obtain such a high degree of legal opinion regarding their future direction.
In the end, Board of Elections member (and Franklin County Republican chair , and top Kasich adviser) Doug Priesse may have revealed an ulterior motive in explaining his vote: “The best way to remove a bad law is to enforce it vigorously.”
The Board’s decision appears to have benefited those wishing to de-fund public education by hastening the legal review process and fine-tuning the 1851 Center’s efforts.
The circumstances surrounding the rejection of this levy repeal issue actually gives us more reason to be concerned about the future of public education funding in Ohio, not less.