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Published: Wednesday, 7/1/2009

Strickland signs week's budget as slots fight rages

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - A temporary, one-week budget cleared the Ohio House and Gov. Ted Strickland's desk Tuesday with another in the pipeline - just in case.

Passage of a two-year, $50 billion-plus budget remains in a holding pattern because of a stalemate over authorizing slot machines at Ohio's seven racetracks, including Toledo's Raceway Park, to raise $933 million.

The war of words continued between Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland), who refuses to bring the slots proposal to a floor vote despite some support within his own caucus, and House Democrats who predicted deeper cuts without them.

"The pain that Ohioans will feel as a result of the proposed cuts will be significant," House Speaker Armond Budish (D., Beachwood) said. "To cut further in my view would be a mistake."

Yesterday marked the last day of the fiscal year, typically the point at which lawmakers recess for the summer amid a flurry of last-minute bills. Instead, both chambers were comparatively quiet. A joint conference committee scheduled to meet last night to begin voting on nearly 600 areas of budget differences was again canceled.

Both Democrats and Republicans say Mr. Strickland's "video lottery terminal'' proposal is the only major issue left unresolved, though they've provided no details on the other agreements.

Mr. Harris has said he's reluctant to have his caucus vote to authorize slot machines that voters have repeatedly rejected.

But he has said Mr. Strickland could authorize them himself via executive order as an extension of the Ohio Lottery just as he did a year ago with electronic Keno in bars and restaurants.

"I think there are six to eight members of our Republican caucus who would be willing to support the [slots] proposal, but they are not willing to undercut the authority and the respect due the office of Senate president," said Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), one of the General Assembly's biggest slots supporters.

"They are respectful of the view of what I guess is a majority of the Republican caucus - that the governor should just do this," he said.

He added, however, that he personally believes the General Assembly should spell out "statutory guardrails" around the operation of slots and to address an apparent conflict between a current prohibition against slots in state law and what he and the governor have interpreted as constitutional authorization for them under the lottery.

The temporary budget, which passed the Senate unanimously on Monday and the House 94-2 yesterday, will keep state government running through July 7 at generally 70 percent of prior funding levels.

But a huge portion of that interim budget - debt service, basic school aid, university student subsidies, and some Medicaid services - are exempt from the across-the-board cut.

A bill has been introduced that would extend the continuing resolution through July 14 if things don't progress.

"It's just a continuation, and I don't want to go along with the status quo. The status quo is killing us," said Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), one of the two negative votes in the House.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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