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Published: Wednesday, 4/29/2009

Senate likely to put GOP's stamp on Strickland budget

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - A $55 billion two-year spending plan expected to win approval in the Democratic-controlled House today is likely to encounter trouble in the Senate. There, it has everything majority Republicans don't like about Gov. Ted Strickland's proposal - and more.

The budget, which won a key committee vote early yesterday morning, is about $600 million larger than Mr. Strickland's proposal. It banks on revenue growth projections that are more optimistic than the governor's plan, and it relies more heavily on federal aid and other one-time funds.

"It's safe to say that we will have a more fiscally conservative budget than the Ohio House," said Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), a member of the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee.

"We have seen a significant expansion of spending during the House process, which could potentially exacerbate our problems long term."

The House Finance and Appropriations Committee increased funding for food banks, child welfare, adult protection, and libraries, areas that either were cut or received no increases under the governor's original $54.5 billion budget.

"We worked very hard on all aspects of the budget," House Speaker Armond Budish (D., Beachwood) said. "We are hopeful the Senate will look at it with a positive outlook, and hopefully when it comes back [from the Senate], we will be able to pass a conference committee report."

Changes made by the House committee have intensified Republican concerns that the budget won't be sustainable in the long run when one-time emergency federal stimulus aid is gone and the state's rainy day fund savings account has been depleted.

House Democrats have reworked the governor's new school-funding formula, tilting the math in favor of poorer schools. Although the governor has signed off on many of the changes, Deborah Delisle, state superintendent of public education, raised concerns about one change.

"The House version of House Bill 1 cuts early childhood funding by $11.5 million," she told a Senate committee yesterday. "This reduction in funds will eliminate public preschool services for over 2,300 children."

Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), a House committee "no" vote early yesterday morning, said lawmakers typically in the past have split the difference between revenue projections from the governor's budget director and legislative staff.

"It appears House Democrats have chosen to ignore the governor's budget director and are going with the higher numbers of [the Legislative Service Commission]," he said. "There's no question that this budget spends billions and billions more in the next two years that will not be available in the future."

However, he praised Dem-

ocratic moves to restore some funding from programs that were under-funded by the governor, particularly restoration of half of $10 million diverted from libraries to other programs.

Rep. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), a committee member, succeeded in adding $500,000 to the budget over the next two years for Kids Unlimited, a nonpublic after-school program in Toledo that concentrates on tutoring and character development.

"When I saw how students' grades had improved, particularly in spelling, and knowing how the governor put money into closing the achievement gap, it seemed to me this would fit perfectly," said Ms. Brown.

The program had been funded by private donations, which have been drying up with the poor economy.

Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Sylvania) voted with other Republicans against the committee version of the budget.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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