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Published: Thursday, 3/22/2001

Taft urges educators to lobby for funds

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

COLUMBUS - Governor Taft and state legislative leaders yesterday urged higher education officials to keep lobbying lawmakers to avoid potential budget cuts as Ohio struggles to find more money for primary and secondary education.

“I would strongly encourage you to remain active and vigilant in continuing to advocate your case to members of the House and Senate,” Mr. Taft said. The governor spoke to nearly 200 university and college trustees and administrators attending a conference organized by the Ohio Board of Regents.

A state Supreme Court decision on public-school spending and a tight budget year have stifled prospects for significant increases in money for higher education. The court has ruled the state's system of paying for public education is too dependent on local property taxes, a decision that could force the state to pump millions more into basic education.

“We are going to try to solve the K-12 [situation] first, and that's going to result in pain throughout the rest of the budget,” House Minority Leader Jack Ford (D., Toledo) said after Mr. Taft's remarks.

Some legislators stressed the need for alternative methods of paying for higher education. State Rep. David Goodman (R., Bexley), chairman of the House higher education subcommittee, said lawmakers are examining using bonds to pay for some initiatives.

Something that could complicate the matter, however, is a constitutional amendment prohibiting the state from selling general obligation bonds at an amount equal to more than 5 percent of the state budget. Estimates from the state Office of Budget and Management indicate that, at about 4.5 percent, the state is approaching the cap.

Still, Mr. Taft and the legislators said doing something about the state's education deficit - Ohio ranks 39th in the nation in the percentage of its population with a bachelor's degree - remains a strong priority.

Under Mr. Taft's proposal, higher education spending would total $2.6 billion in 2001-2002, a 3 percent increase over this year. In 2002-2003, spending would climb to $2.7 billion, a 3.8 percent increase.

Those figures are nearly $800 million less than what the regents are seeking.

Sally Perz, the University of Toledo's executive director of government relations, said she is hopeful about the prospects for maintaining higher education's share of state funding.

“The legislators that I am talking to are giving me their best word that they are working so the K-12 situation won't be fixed at the expense of higher education,” she said.



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