State budget shortfall looms

Port Clinton News Herald - June 12, 2007

Port Clinton News Herald

Associated Press

COLUMBUS — A looming revenue shortfall that could top $240 million threatened today to cloud state budget negotiations thus far so genial that one lawmaker suggested a chorus of “Kumbaya.”

The $53.4 billion spending blueprint cleared the Senate Finance Committee unanimously after garnering support from both parties for its priority items. Among its highlights are: a two-year tuition freeze at state colleges and universities, property tax breaks for disabled Ohioans and those over 65, expanded health coverage for children and more money for pre-school and after-school care.

Though the lag between tax revenue projections and collections has not yet been finalized, lawmakers and Gov. Ted Strickland agreed that figuring out what spending to cut to fill the gap will be a key challenge heading into talks on the final budget compromise.

The Senate’s version of the budget, a bill that will fund state operations for the two years beginning July 1, calls for spending $1.3 billion more than the House version.

“I almost feel like we should hold hands, sing ‘Kumbaya,’ and kiss one another,” said Sen. Ray Miller, a Columbus Democrat, during today’s hearing on final budget changes in the Senate.

After a vote by the full Senate on Wednesday — expected to be unanimous, as it was in the House — Republican lawmakers who control the House and Senate have until the end of the month to mesh their spending plans and conform the final product to the adjusted bottom line.

Senate Minority Leader Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, had an early suggestion for making ends meet, though: Rein in state-funded charter schools and send the money spent on them back to public schools. A former public school teacher, Fedor vowed that her caucus would make the issue a focal point of the final talks.

Another money-generating option that was being discussed heading into the last 18 days of budget negotiations was to limit Strickland’s proposed across-the-board property tax exemption for senior citizens and the disabled to only low- and middle-income people.

Such a change would save the state at least $118 million a year, according to a recent Policy Matters Ohio study put together by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

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