COLUMBUS - After each local government predicts how many police officers, firefighters, and other staff they'll have to lay off because of proposed state budget cuts, the chairman of the House Finance Committee begins the calculations. In most cases, Rep. Chuck Calvert (R., Medina) tells them the proposed state cut in revenue sharing funds amounts to about 1.5 percent of their total budgets. And then the questions begin: What is your local property tax millage rate? Has the county reached the limit of its piggyback sales tax authority? Has the library board asked for a dedicated local property tax levy?
Rep. Tom Patton (R., Strongsville) brought up the question he said others in the room wouldn't. After hearing "heartbreaking testimony" from families who say they would be devastated by health-care cuts, are libraries being asked to sacrifice any more than any other area of the state budget?
Lynda Murray, legislative director for the Ohio Library Council, said the move appears to be an attempt to further shift the funding burden for local governments and libraries away from the state to the local taxpayer.
"What this really does is it drives all of us to compete with each other instead of working collaboratively," she said. "Library boards are not elected. We are not taxing authorities. We have to go through some other taxing authority...."
Of Ohio's 251 libraries, 78 percent rely on state funding.
The House is expected next month to adopt its version of the tight $51.3 billion budget Gov. Bob Taft proposed. The proposal includes a 20 percent cut in three state tax-fueled revenue-sharing funds for counties and cities, a 10 percent cut for townships and villages, and a 5 percent cut for public libraries.
In the past, the funds were often lawmakers' top priority for protection whenever talk of cuts came up. But this year, members of the finance committee have already heard testimony from families talking about bankruptcy or divorce because they can't afford high medical bills for children with cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, or hemophilia.
Williams County Commissioner Thomas Strup told the committee counties are already doing their part with 30 of the 88 counties already at the maximum sales tax rate.
"We've been experiencing it right along with you, but we cannot handle any more," he said.
Mr. Calvert said the roughly $170,000 cut the county would experience would amount to about 1.5 percent of its annual $11 million budget.
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