Ohio House Speeds Tax-Cut Delay; Senate to Slow It
The Democratic-controlled House planned to vote Wednesday on delaying the final 4.2 percent cut in a five-year, 21 percent reduction. The plan, approved in committee Tuesday on a party-line vote, also includes a 5 percent pay cut for lawmakers that couldn't take effect until January 2011.
The Republican-controlled Senate, however, is in no rush to approve what many of its GOP colleagues in the House deemed a tax increase. While Senate President Bill Harris has expressed an open mind to the idea, senators are studying a range of alternatives, including further budget cuts.
Lawmakers are again back at the budget drawing board to fill a roughly $850 million hole after the Ohio Supreme Court put a hold on Gov. Ted Strickland's plan to put slot machines at the state's horse racing tracks.
And some Republican senators are in no mood to move quickly on another budget suggestion by Strickland.
"I don't think anyone wants to rush the matter because it was just a few months ago that the governor sold everyone on the idea of slots, which ended up failing," said state Sen. Jon Husted of Kettering. "We're not lemmings."
Sen. John Carey, the Wellston Republican who is chairman of the Finance Committee, said the Senate is unlikely to move forward with any proposal until after the Nov. 3 election. If a ballot proposal to build casinos in four cities is approved, the state would see a nominal amount of money come in, slightly altering the budget calculations.
There isn't yet a consensus in the Senate over a single way, or combination of ideas, to address the budget gap.
"We haven't identified any alternatives that we're willing to step up and say, 'This is the answer at this point,'" Carey said.
Some ideas include further cuts to an already emaciated budget, while others are thinking up other ways to raise revenue - though lawmakers wouldn't say what they are considering.
Strickland's tax cut delay isn't off the table. Senate leaders have made no definitive public statements criticizing the plan, leaving themselves wiggle room to give the 12 Democrats in the chamber enough votes to pass it.
However, throwing support behind an idea that House Republicans roundly rejected may make it more difficult for the party to attack the idea politically.
While some are worried about the political ramifications of the delay, further cuts would likely have their own consequences. The heads of three top state agencies in terms of budget expenditures painted a dire picture for lawmakers in June, when there was talk of turning to further cuts instead of going with the slot machines.
That situation has presented itself again four months later.
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Terry Collins said he'd likely have to close six prisons. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Doug Lumpkin said about 5,000 children could lose their child care services. Education could also face millions in cuts.
Cutting services that many would consider to be less vital, such as funding for libraries, could provoke a backlash. Initial cuts for libraries proposed by Strickland earlier this year were met with such a forceful lobbying campaign that lawmakers took money from other programs to lessen the library cuts.