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Published: Thursday, 7/2/2009

Ohio House OKs temporary budget

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The Senate will hold hearings on slot machines. The House will hold hearings on social services that it thinks Senate Republicans might cut.

Bottom line: More waiting on a new two-year state budget.

The Ohio House yesterday voted 84-11 to keep state government operating another week through July 14 at reduced funding levels as lawmakers continue their game of words over how to plug a projected $3.2 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years.

Tuesday marked the end of fiscal year 2009 with Gov. Ted Strickland's office transferring a little over $1 billion from the state's rainy-day fund budgetary reserves to balance the closing books. That left a savings account balance of just 89 cents.

Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland) agreed to hold public hearings beginning today on the governor's proposal to bring slot machines to Toledo's Raceway Park and six other horse-racing tracks as an alternative to deeper budget cuts.

The hearings could represent a minor crack in the wall Mr. Harris has erected against a floor vote on the slots proposal, which he maintains Mr. Strickland could authorize via executive order just as he introduced electronic Keno a year ago to bars and restaurants through the Ohio Lottery.

Mr. Strickland isn't convinced of the sincerity of the effort.

"Given that 16 of the 21 Senate Republicans voted to expand gambling at racetracks in the past, this is little more than a political charade to delay the budget and the hard decisions that have to be made," Strickland spokesman Amanda Wurst said.

Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills) will chair the hearing that will include three Republicans and two Democrats. The director of the lottery commission and Mr. Strickland's budget director have been asked to testify, but even Mr. Strickland has said many details on how the slots plan would operate have yet to be worked out.

"He's asked for legislative support, and we have a responsibility to our constituents to ask tough questions," Mr. Wagoner said. "One question is whether the revenue projections might not be accurate.''

House Democrats, in turn, countered with an announcement that the House Finance Committee will begin hearings at roughly the same time as the Senate slots hearing to hear from libraries and recipients of mental health, elderly in-home care, and numerous other state-funded services that the committee guesses might be targeted for deeper cuts by the Senate.



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