$13B energy issue could be largest bond issue ever decided by Ohio voters

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$13B energy issue could be largest bond issue ever decided by Ohio voters

Constitutional amendment proposed by the Ohio Energy Initiative Commission, LLC:

Require the state to issue $13 billion in bonds over 10 years to fund energy projects

Pay $65 million a year in management fees to the commission

Authorize the commission to decide which projects get funded

Prohibit the Ohio General Assembly from determining how or which projects are funded

Ohio would be forced to issue $13 billion in bonds and pay $650 million in management fees over 10 years if a proposed constitutional amendment makes the ballot and voters approve it.

The bond money would be used for unspecified clean energy projects approved by the Ohio Energy Initiative Commission LLC, a group incorporated in January 2012 in Delaware. The bonds would be backed by the full faith and credit of the state but lawmakers would have no role in how the money is spent.

It would be the largest bond issue ever decided by Ohio voters, far exceeding the $2 billion Third Frontier issue adopted in a 2005 statewide vote.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted called the proposal “highly irregular” and said if it makes the ballot, voters should reject it.

“It makes no sense to me. If it’s good for Ohio then base it in Ohio with Ohioans running it, not people from out of state,” Husted said. “It’s scary. It would obligate Ohioans to long-term debt we can’t afford.”

This week, Ohio Energy Initiative Commission LLC cleared the first two hurdles to getting on the ballot. Attorney General Mike DeWine approved the petition language and the Ohio Ballot Board agreed that the proposal only covered one subject. Now the group must collect 385,247 valid voter signatures by July to make the November 2014 ballot.

Josh Pulliam, spokesman for Ohio Energy Initiative Commission, said the effort is backed by Ohio citizens and Pro-Energy Ohio, a Columbus-based energy rights group. He said the proposed constitutional amendment would create clean energy jobs in Ohio and money would be spent upgrading the state’s energy infrastructure, such as the electricity grid.

Pulliam declined to disclose who is involved in or backing Pro-Energy Ohio or the commission. Backers of the proposal are considering using volunteer and paid petition circulators to collect the required signatures, he said.

He added that the group expects to spend $2 million to $2.5 million on the petition gathering and campaign. The group hired a fundraiser but is not yet ready to say who it is, Pulliam said.

When the proposal first surfaced more than a year ago, 11 environmental groups opposed it, saying it lacked transparency and accountability and was so broadly worded that any technology or any project could be funded.

Jed Thorp of the Sierra Club, Ohio Chapter, said the groups still oppose it for the same reasons.

“There are just too many question marks in this proposal to give us any measure of confidence,” Thorp said.

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