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RALLY AGAINST KASICH CUTS Debbie Hajzak, a Cleveland Public Library employee, gestures to the crowd on the Statehouse lawn that opposed much of Kasich's budget.
Debbie Hajzak, a Cleveland Public Library employee, gestures to the crowd on the Statehouse lawn that opposed much of Kasich's budget.
COLUMBUS DISPATCH/BROOKE LAVALLEY Enlarge
Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

800 rally against Kasich's proposal for cuts to schools, social services

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- Some 800 nursing home workers, child care providers, librarians, and students Tuesday held the first of what is likely to be many rallies protesting expected budget cuts.

"I am a mother. I know how to balance a budget on a welfare check…," said Nickole Wilson, of Cleveland, representing Advocates for Budget Legislation Equality.

"Our children are in dire straits right now," she said. "We cannot cut education … We are dealing with a global economy now. If we cut education, we are cutting the lives of our children."

While the shouting was taking place outside the windows of Gov. John Kasich's Statehouse office, they couldn't be heard inside where Mr. Kasich signed a bill increasing the authority of State Auditor Dave Yost to conduct performance audits for state and local governments.

The governor said he hadn't heard what the crowd was shouting.

"I think we've done a very good job in terms of our efforts to protect the weakest among us," he said. "Look, we're going to find as we go through the process … that there are places where we have some gaps. One of the things we did was to protect all the people who are currently on child care. They get to keep the child care…

"Our Medicaid program, a lot of people would have gone in and gotten rid of things like dental coverage, but we didn't do that," Mr. Kasich said.

Mr. Kasich proposed a $55.5 billion, two-year budget last month that calls for no tax hikes but cuts aid to local governments, schools, libraries, colleges, and a number of social services. In many cases, the cuts are due to the loss of one-time federal stimulus dollars that shored up the current budget but won't be replaced by state dollars in the next.

The proposal deals with a nearly $8 billion revenue shortfall and is currently being debated in House hearings.

Tuesday's protestors are part of One Ohio Now, a coalition of education, labor, and human service groups that argue that the answer to the state's budget woes should be a mix of tax increases and spending cuts.

A final spending plan must reach Mr. Kasich's desk by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

Among numerous provisions, the budget would divert aid that would have gone to nursing homes to programs like Passport designed to help people stay in their homes longer. But Winifred Williams, a 20-year recreational therapy employee at Liberty West nursing home in Toledo, said the budget should not play one against the other.

"When it gets to the point where you can't keep somebody at home, where Alzheimer's is setting in, dementia, they don't remember where they're at, [and] they begin to think that you're somebody else, they need 24-hour care then," she said.

Some of those in the crowd also protested the recently signed Senate Bill 5, which restricts the collective bargaining power of public workers. Mary Jaworski, a dietary worker at the Ridgewood Manor nursing home in Monclova Township, isn't a public employee, but she figures it's only a matter of time before private sector unions become the next target

"It's like, 'You think this is bad. Wait until you see what I'm going to do next'," she said. "How do we know he's not going to come after the middle class people? He said he was going to create jobs. How are you going to create jobs if you're taking away their means to fight for a job? We have to fight for our rights."

The budget would reduce eligibility for state-funded child care assistance, but it would not kick out those currently receiving that help. The budget would, however, eliminate the Kinship Navigator program that provides assistance to grandparents and other relatives to keep child care in the family.

Patricia Urbina-Alcid, administrator at Lighthouse Christian Childcare on Alexis Road in Toledo, is worried about such cuts, especially after the loss of the Early Learning Initiative in the current budget and the potential for cuts in federal Head Start monies. The center employs about 25 people.

"Child care is about $165 a week, and these are working families who receive assistance when they try to go back into the workforce," she said. "If they're cut, they're not going to be able to work…"

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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