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Published: Friday, 1/29/2010

More federal help pursued by Strickland

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Knowing that a budget gap potentially billions of dollars wide may lie ahead, Gov. Ted Strickland yesterday unapologetically said he's pursuing another round of help from the federal government to help Ohio weather the storm.

"It is appropriate for our federal partners to continue to help us," the Democratic governor told reporters at an Associated Press media conference. "We're not going to ask for this forever, but I go back to the fact that we are living in very unusual, unprecedented circumstances, and there has to be recognition of that."

President Obama has called for passage of a second jobs package that Mr. Strickland and some other governors have argued should include more money for their strained budgets. At the least, they've requested that the federal government again provide enhanced matching dollars for state Medicaid expenses as it did in last year's controversial $787 billion stimulus package.

Mr. Strickland's comments came on the heels of the announcement that Ohio had just been awarded $400 million in federal stimulus dollars to restore passenger rail service on existing freight track between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati. The move is seen as the first step toward ultimately being part of a Midwestern high-speed rail system.

The state's current two-year budget, which will run through June 30, 2011, is in balance as the state has largely met its lowered revenue projections. But the pact's heavy reliance on one-time federal funds for Medicaid, education, and other day-to-day state operations have led to predictions that debate on the next two-year budget could begin with an expected $4 billion to $8 billion shortfall.

Former Columbus area congressman John Kasich, Mr. Strickland's expected Republican opponent this fall, has been sharply critical of Mr. Strickland's turning to the federal government for help.

"I don't think going to Washington on your knees with a tin cup begging for somebody else to bail us out is an answer, because at some point that ends," he said recently.

After yesterday's forum, Mr. Strickland told reporters that Mr. Kasich has been evasive when asked how he would deal with the state's budget shortfall. The governor has been critical of his opponent's proposal to gradually eliminate the state's income tax, which represents more than 40 percent of the state budget.

The governor is keeping his fingers crossed that the state will benefit somewhat from a recovering economy by the time he has to propose his next budget in early 2011, assuming he's re-elected.

He also said he wants to keep the option of installing slot machines at the state's racetracks if necessary to help fill the void. The governor's plan to install the devices this year was derailed by the Ohio Supreme Court when it ruled that the governor and lawmakers could not embrace the machines as an extension of the Ohio Lottery without a vote of the people.

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner found yesterday that a petition effort to put a referendum on the ballot in November had fallen about 27,000 signatures short. But the referendum's backers have an additional 10 days to try to fill the gap.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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