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Published: Thursday, 12/11/2008

Nightmare scenario of potential Ohio budget cuts unveiled by Strickland s administration

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS Six prisons, at least two juvenile detention facilities, and another mental hospital could be mothballed, state subsidies to schools and college students would be slashed, and hundreds of the mentally disabled would be pushed out of state facilities under a nightmare scenario unveiled Thursday by Gov. Ted Strickland s administration.

The ugly picture which the administration stressed is not the governor s next two-year budget proposal assumes that no help will come to states from the federal government, triggering a 25 percent cut in state spending across most agencies.

Mr. Strickland s budget director last week forecast a potential shortfall of $640 million in the current fiscal year that will end June 30, 2009 and a possible deficit of $4.7 billion through the next two-year budget.

The latter figure assumes a 10 percent reduction in current spending levels that is already in the works as part of the budget planning process. Without that reduction, the shortfall could be $7.3 billion.

The numbers released by Mr. Strickland s office Thursday addresses the worst-case scenario with no federal help to cushion the blow.

Various state agencies have suggested what they might be forced to do if they had to cut a quarter of their budgets. The report does not suggest what specific facilities would be closed if it came to that.

The Department of Education suggested it would have to significantly cut per-pupil subsidies to local school districts.

"This would undoubtedly force many schools into a deficit situation with their only option being entering fiscal emergency and requesting solvency assistance funding from the state," reads the report.

Aid to state-supported colleges and universities would be cut by nearly $2,000 per full-time student, which the administration said would be the lowest level in state history in constant dollars.

The governor and his staff Wednesday met with his council of economic advisors, an informal group of economists who translate confidential information from Ohio s large companies into longer-term forecasts. The picture wasn t pretty.

The council predicted a 0.5 percent reduction in national gross domestic product in the current fiscal year and sluggish growth of just 0.6 percent in 2010 and 4.9 percent in 2011. The average growth from 1991 to 2007 was 5.3 percent.

As it did before the national recession, Ohio s economy is expected to lag the nation as a whole. State product is expected to slide 1 percent in 2010, rebound just 0.3 percent in 2010, and grow 2.4 percent in 2011, less than half the expected national average.

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



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