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Published: Sunday, 4/6/2003

$1.2B budget gap imperils agencies

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A third youth detention center would close, mental institutions might follow, and some nursing homes would go out of business if Ohio House Republicans forge ahead with planned budget cuts, lawmakers were told yesterday.

“Look at the crowd here,” Rep. Charles Calvert (R., Medina), chairman of the House Finance Committee, said during a rare weekend meeting. “Everybody has their programs they want to fund and we don't have the money.”

Republicans continued to struggle during the weekend with a mix of budget cuts, tax increases, and the possibility of gambling to fill a $3 billion hole in Gov. Bob Taft's proposed $49.2 billion two-year budget. So far they have identified $1.8 billion in cuts.

House Minority Leader Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) met with House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) Friday night but said Democrats don't like what they see happening and don't plan to support it.

“It looks like we could have a series of continuing resolutions to keep the budget operable during the course of the next fiscal year,” he said. “Cutting higher education to this extent, doing away with law schools, dismantling medical schools are non-starters.”

Republicans met again behind closed doors to discuss how to close the $1.2 billion hole in their proposal. On the table are a temporary one penny increase on the 5-cent sales tax, a voter referendum on slot machines at race tracks, and deep cuts to local governments and libraries.

All three issues are highly divisive within the Republican caucus. A full House vote is planned this week.

“You can call [the sales tax hike] temporary and put it on for two years, but if you don't control the underlying spending that is germane to the necessity of needing new revenues, you'll be right back here in two years having these same debates,” said Rep. Stephen Buehrer (R., Delta). “You've got to take dollars out of the cost side or there's always going to be the revenue binge.”

Testimony included representatives from the Department of Youth Services, which said it would have to close a third development center in three years, the Department of Mental Health, which threatened closing mental institutions, and nursing homes officials, who claim a freeze on their reimbursement rates could cause some facilities to default on loans and go out of business.

The state's colleges and universities continued to lash out at GOP-proposed cuts from Mr. Taft's higher-education proposal, particularly subsidies for graduate programs that attract large numbers of out-of-state and international students.

“I understand at Ohio State that it's one-third [of the students who stay in Ohio],” said Rep. Jean Schmidt (R., Loveland). “We're paying for two-thirds of the kids to get a free ride and then go someplace else.”

School administrators argued the reduced graduate-student subsidies would translate into fewer high-quality researchers, a diminished university reputation, and fewer research dollars.



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