COLUMBUS — A state panel on Tuesday doubled the amount of work that backers of a $14 billion borrowing proposal for green energy projects must do to get on the ballot.
The Ohio Ballot Board, by a 3-1 party-line vote, determined that the proposed Ohio Clean Energy Initiative would change two sections of the state constitution, which would require those behind it to gather at least 306,000 signatures twice.
This marked the fourth time that the backers have been before the board with a similar proposal.
But this time they added a provision that, assuming voters approve the borrowing, would allow them to come back later and fix any errors flagged by a court without having to again gather hundreds of thousands of signatures.
“Essentially, what they want to do is prescribe themselves a provision that says I can put a new thing on the ballot to amend the constitution with 1,000 signatures,” said Secretary of State Jon Husted, the board’s Republican chairman. “It’s 305,000 approximately now.”
Potentially, three different questions could appear on the ballot dealing with the same issue if the board decides later that the plan is also affected by a constitutional amendment voters approved just last week. Voters might be asked first to waive the constitution’s new ban on writing special business interests into the constitution before voting on the other two parts of the issue.
The committee’s backers could challenge the board’s decision before the Ohio Supreme Court. They could also dust off their last proposal, which lacks the change in the signature requirement. The prior proposal had already been certified by the board as a single ballot question.
“It’s clearly all one amendment,” the committee’s attorney, Don McTigue, said. “The parts are all interrelated.”
The three Republicans on the board supported splitting the question. The sole Democrat opposed it.
The proposed amendment would obligate the state to borrow $1.3 billion a year for 11 years to invest in wind, solar, biomass, and other clean energy projects. Decisions on which projects to fund would be made by the Ohio Energy Initiative Commission, a limited liability company registered in the state of Delaware. That commission would get at least $65 million a year from the bond issues.
“Who is behind this thing?” asked Jack Shaner, of the Ohio Environmental Council, which opposes the proposal. “This is a riddle wrapped in a mystery. They incorporated this thing in Delaware and want $14 billion to $15 billion in taxpayer money. We have yet to learn who the beneficiaries are.”
“In the meantime, we have a solid track record on the ground today in Ohio’s clean energy standards,” he added. “They’re in a deep freeze and we want them thawed by Jan. 1, 2017, but they have a proven track record of shrinking air emissions, saving customers money, attracting jobs, and stimulating private investment.