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Published: Tuesday, 7/7/2009

Senate accused of hostage tactic

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland lashed out Monday at Senate Republicans, accusing them of collecting their paychecks while holding Ohioans hostage during a stalemate over a two-year budget that is now a week overdue.

Republicans, in turn, said Mr. Strickland sent them a half-baked proposal to legalize slot machines at Ohio's seven horse-racing tracks and said committee hearings on the subject have raised more questions than answers.

As the rhetoric over the stalemate heated up, the Senate passed an interim budget at lower funding levels through July 14 while talks continue. The governor said he will "reluctantly" sign it but warned he has serious concerns about signing a third.

"I am calling on members of the Legislature to work around the clock until they agree on a budget," Mr. Strickland said. "Members of the Legislature are getting a paycheck, but a lot of Ohioans are not. They receive health care 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."

Sen. Jon Husted (R., Kettering), a member of a special Senate committee delving into the slots plan, characterized the Democratic governor's remarks as a tantrum.

"We've taken his proposal seriously,'' he said. "We have worked hour after hour around the clock trying to salvage what is a fatally flawed proposal as it sits before us today. As the chief executive of this state, to go and make accusations like that and to try to play the victim in every circumstance is not getting this solved."

Last month Mr. Strickland reversed his long-held stance against expanding gambling, particularly without a vote of the people. He now is counting on collecting $933 million over the next two years from slots, without a statewide vote, to apply toward a projected $3.2 billion revenue gap that otherwise is being patched largely with cuts to state services and subsidies.

Senate Republicans seem to be leaning toward putting the issue on the Nov. 3 ballot and passing a one-year K-12 education budget until the will of voters is known.

"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."

He also disowned proposed language submitted to a select Senate slots committee that would have required the state to return to the racetracks the $65 million one-time license fees if voters approve a separate ballot issue being pushed by casino interests.

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

The so-called "clawback" slots language came from a House-Senate conference committee charged with developing a budget compromise, but it was forwarded through Mr. Strickland's Office of Budget and Management.

Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), chairman of the special Senate task force, said the members thought they were working from the administration's proposal.

A House committee yesterday continued to hear from those who fear they will be hurt if deeper budget cuts result.

"When the economic chips are down, this is the time to increase funding for food banks, not reduce it," said Dan Flowers, president of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. "This is not an if-you-can-it-would-be-nice sort of a request. This is an if-you-can't-or-don't there are hungry people in this state who won't be served. That's the type of request this is."

Demand for food bank services are up 29 percent this year.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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