COLUMBUS - The proposed biennial budget set for a vote Wednesday in the Ohio House skims funding from most state agencies to help pay for education and rising Medicaid costs but entirely eliminates a handful of programs.
The Women's Policy and Research Commission, stunned by its proposed elimination under the budget, fired back yesterday, accusing lawmakers of sending a message to more than half the state's population that they don't care.
“The fact that this committee, even after Ohio was one of the last states in the country to form a commission, wants to eliminate the commission after just 10 years amazes me,” Commissioner Lisa Jenkins of Springfield told the House Finance and Appropriations Committee.
The 15-member state panel is charged with promoting the advancement of women and removing barriers to equality.
Governor Taft had proposed funding the commission with about $249,000 in 2001-02 and nearly $262,000 in 2002-03. But state Rep. John Carey (R., Wellston), the committee's chairman, said the governor agreed to the panel's elimination in the latest round of budget-cut talks.
He agreed to the elimination of the State and Local Government Commission, headed by the lieutenant governor and designed to be a voice for counties and municipalities in their dealings with the state. That cut would save the state about $250,000 a year.
State Rep. Jim Hoops (R., Napoleon) noted the budget includes state funds for several women's programs, including funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings.
The governor had been criticized by Democrats for his position that the state couldn't afford the spending that would make the state eligible for additional federal funds.
Ms. Jenkins, however, countered that women's health is just one aspect of women's issues. She pointed to a pilot program in Toledo, pushed by the commission, to provide access to free legal services for poor women.
State Rep. Ray Miller (D., Columbus), who has been critical of a number of budget cuts pushed by Republicans, did not come enthusiastically to the commission's defense.
“It's been a bit, in my opinion, too much fluff,” he said. “The things that are being said aren't hard-hitting enough and making a real difference in the lives of women. ...The bottom line here is that the performance has not been what it should be.”
State Rep. Dixie Allen (D., Dayton) criticized the elimination of the program, noting that funding had been continued for commissions focusing on African American males and Hispanics on the condition that they prove their worth. She argued the same position should have been taken with the women's commission.
However, there didn't appear to be a similar groundswell of support for the local government commission. Local governments and libraries expressed betrayal this year when the commission defended Mr. Taft's freeze of their funds under his budget proposal.
“They're supposed to be an advocate for local governments,” said Larry Long, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio. “Certainly the administration needed to make its point, but to use that organization to front for it is clearly not in the best interests of local governments.”
Still, he said counties would like to see the panel continue because it has in the past been helpful on a number of legislative and financial issues.