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Published: Saturday, 7/18/2009

Strickland vetoes 61 budget items; schools, local governments are affected

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland got the last word Friday on the state's overdue $50.5 billion, two-year budget, using his line-item veto pen 61 times to strike legislative priorities before affixing his signature.

The governor scratched a permanent replacement of funding for schools and local governments that have lost their share of a soon-to-be-defunct business tax, increased funding for voucher students attending private and religious schools, and a mandate that the state apply for federal abstinence-only education funding.

Also gone are a mandate that three state agencies convert 5 percent of their 8,000 state fleet vehicles to propane fuel, a provision making the Ohio Turnpike Commission responsible for the repair of all Sandusky County grade-separation approaches impacted by turnpike projects, and a provision the governor said would lead to the proliferation of so-called skilled-based electronic games in the state.

Mr. Strickland, a Democrat, is no fan of school vouchers and tried to kill the program in his first budget proposal two years ago. This time he nixed a legislative attempt to increase funding for the program, which provides tuition money for students in poor-performing schools to transfer to the private or religious schools of their choice.

"In a time of limited resources and shared sacrifice across state government, it is not in the public interest to increase these scholarships," he wrote in his veto message.

School districts and local governments that depended on a portion of a tax on business inventory, equipment, and fixtures that is being gradually phased out have been urging the state to find a permanent replacement.

Mr. Strickland's veto preserved a provision that reimburses local governments through 2011 and schools through 2013, but killed language to dedicate permanently a portion of the new Commercial Activity Tax on business gross receipts and other revenue for them.

The governor said this language would have permanently dedicated $5.2 billion of the tax and general revenue fund revenue to an "outdated distribution formula," money that instead could go into the long-term phase-in of his "evidenced-based model" of funding education that did make the final budget.

Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said he was surprised Mr. Strickland would strike the language.

"Rossford was very interested in this," he said. "How much money will Rossford get to implement the evidence-based model versus what they've lost because of [the end of] the business property tangible tax? There will be significant losers."

The budget became law 2 1/2 weeks after the end of the last fiscal year, the first time in 18 years that a budget was delayed. It banks on $933 million anticipated from the controversial operation of as many as 17,500 slot machines at Ohio's seven racetracks, including Toledo's Raceway Park. It also spends about $5.5 billion in one-time federal stimulus dollars that presumably won't be available for 2012-2013.

The plan includes massive spending cuts, marking a rare occasion when a governor has signed a budget smaller than its predecessor despite rising demand for Medicaid and other state services.

Mr. Strickland noted that a number of his vetoes were to help agencies preserve flexibility in light of the budget cuts. Most of his deletions involved policy language, but did include some appropriation cuts.

Shortly after signing the plan, Mr. Strickland went to a Dayton high school to plug his education reforms. K-12 education was largely spared the deep cuts made in many other budget areas, but that was based entirely on the one-time federal stimulus cash.

The budget includes some new mandates, such as all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes for which funding won't be fully phased in for a decade.

Mr. Strickland and lawmakers gave up continuing tuition freezes at Ohio's colleges and universities and instead set a cap for tuition of 3.5 percent in each of the next two years.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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