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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

GOP Files Nearly 38,000 Signatures To Repeal Sales Tax Increase

aftax sales tax petition
Howard Wilkinson
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou with sales tax repeal petitions. Behind him are GOP volunteers urging people to vote down the "Aftax," a reference to Democratic Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval.

Hamilton County Republicans who mounted a petition drive to put an issue on the November ballot repealing a .02 percent increase in the sales tax marched into the county auditor's office with a tall stack of about 37,800 signatures Wednesday afternoon.

If at least 23,629 of those signatures turn out to belong to registered voters in Hamilton County, the issue will appear on the November ballot.

But it will take a few weeks before it is known if there are enough valid signatures.

"There are a whole lot of people who worked incredibly hard, day and night, to get this done,'' Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou said at a press conference outside the county administration building.

petition stack
Credit Howard Wilkinson / WVXU
The nearly three-foot tall stack of about 37,800 signatures presented to the auditor's office Wednesday afternoon.

In front of Triantafilou was a nearly three-foot tall stack of petitions. Behind him stood volunteers who included elected officials, Republican candidates and party volunteers from Cincinnati and around the county.

The sales tax increase was passed by two of the three county commissioners – Democrats Todd Portune and Denise Driehaus – who said it was necessary to fill a projected $28 million hole in the county budget this year.

The hole, Democrats say, was the result of Republicans in the Ohio Statehouse making severe cuts several years ago to the Local Government Fund.

"If we cut any more, we would be cutting into bone,'' Driehaus told WVXU.

But at Wednesday's press conference, Republican County Commissioner Chris Monzel said he has no doubt that the commissioners can find another $28 million to cut from the budget instead of raising taxes.

"Raising taxes should not be the first choice,'' Monzel said.

Monzel said there were "folks on both sides saying, 'I support the sales tax but I want a chance to vote on it.'''

The petitions will remain in the county auditor's office for 10 days for public inspection. Then the papers will go to the Hamilton County Board of Elections for verification of the names on the petitions. At that point, voters are likely to know if the issue will be on the ballot.

Democrats have been accusing the Republicans of mounting this campaign to draw more Republican voters out this fall for candidates like Monzel, and, in particular, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot.

Republicans deny that, but at the press conference, several young Republicans stood behind the speakers with hand-painted signs saying people should vote against "the Aftax."

It was a reference to Democrat Aftab Purveval, who is Chabot's opponent this fall. Pureval is Hamilton County Clerk of Court and had absolutely nothing to do with passing the resolution raising the sales tax.

Shortly after the GOP press conference, Pureval put out a written statement saying, "I oppose the sales tax." 

"I understand the county commissioners are in a difficult situation because the legislature in Columbus has cut local government funds and made it hard for county governments to operate,'' Pureval said. "Still I think the sales tax is wrong for the people of Hamilton County." 

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.