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Published: Monday, 7/6/2009

Gov. Ted Strickland blasts Senate Republicans for budget delays

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS Gov. Ted Strickland on Monday lashed out against Senate Republicans, accusing them of collecting their paychecks while holding Ohio hostage during the current budget stalemate over slot machines.

I am calling on members of the legislature to work around the clock until they agree on a budget, said the Democratic governor. Members of the legislature are getting a paycheck, but a lot of Ohioans are not. They receive healthcare when too many Ohioans do not. There is no justification for any unwillingness to stay here and work continuously until this budget issue is resolved.

Mr. Strickland has called on the Republican-controlled Senate to agree to his proposal to introduce thousands of slot machines to Toledo s Raceway Park and six other horse-racing tracks as a means of raising $933 million to help fill a $3.2 billion gap that is otherwise mostly being patched with budget cuts.

He rejected an idea floating in the Senate for the question to be put on the Nov. 3 ballot along with passage of a one-year education budget instead of the normal two-year plan while lawmakers wait to see how voters respond.

That means education funding for a second year would depend entirely on the passage of the initiative or some other undecided, unknown source of funds, Mr. Strickland said. That is not a real budget proposal. That is a blatant political gimmick. It is utterly and totally unacceptable.

He also shot down proposed legislative language that had been submitted to a select Senate committee studying the slots proposal that would have required the state to give back to the racetracks their $65 million one-time license fees if voters approve a separate ballot issue being pushed by casino interests for the November ballot.

That proposed constitutional amendment would approve four Las Vegas-style casinos, including table games and slot machines, in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

He said the so-called clawback language, which Republicans have seized on as an example of the unpredictably of Mr. Strickland s slots revenue estimates, is not a part of his plan. Senate Republicans, however, have criticized the governor for not submitting a fully developed proposal, leaving too many questions unanswered.

The Senate is expected Monday to rubber-stamp a House-passed continuing budget that will keep state government operating at a lower funding level for another week through June 14. Mr. Strickland, however, said he will reluctantly signed this one, but raised serious questions about the idea of the stalemate continuing for a third week.

Although many programs are being funded at levels 30 percent below what they received during the fiscal year that ended June 30, Mr. Strickland said the state is digging itself more than $2 million deeper in the hole each week it continues with temporary budgets.

He said the state is losing federal matching funds and continues to fund programs that would have been significantly cut or eliminated altogether by now until his proposed budget.

The Senate committee studying the slots proposal continued to meet Monday as did a House committee hearing from those who fear they are most likely to be hurt if deeper budget cuts result due to the failure of the slots proposal.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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