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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 from the roughly 3,100-page spending plan before affixing his signature.
The governor scratched increased funding for voucher students attending private and religious schools, a mandate that the state apply for federal abstinence-only education funding, and a permanent replacement of funding for schools and local governments that have lost their share of a soon-to-be-defunct business tax.
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 affected by turnpike projects, and a provision that the governor maintained 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 unsuccessfully to kill the program in his first budget proposal two years ago. So it should come as no surprise that he would veto an attempt to increase funding for the program, which provides tuition for students in poor-performing schools to go transfer to the private or religious school of their choice.
This provision would increase the maximum award for the Educational Choice scholarship program, Mr. Strickland wrote in his veto message.
In a time of limited resources and shared sacrifice across state government, it is not in the public interest to increase these scholarships.
The budget became law two and a half weeks after the end of the last fiscal year, the first time in 18 years that a budget was delayed. The state had been operating on one-week budget extensions since then at funding levels that fell as low as 70 percent of prior levels for some state agencies.
The budget 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, beginning in May. It also spends about $5.5 billion in one-time federal stimulus dollars that presumably won t be available for the 2012-2013 budget.
The plan includes massive spending cuts, marking a rare occasion when a governor has signed a budget smaller than its predecessor despite rising demand on Medicaid and other state services. Mr. Strickland s signature came on the same day that the state reported its unemployment rate had hit 11.1 percent.
Mr. Strickland noted that a number of his vetoes were designed to preserve flexibility for state agencies at a time when they re dealing with budget cuts.
Shortly after signing the plan in Columbus, Mr. Strickland was off to a Dayton high school to plug education reforms that he advocated, that survived the final plan. K-12 education was largely spared the deep cuts seen in many other areas of the budget, but that s thanks to the federal stimulus cash.
Despite a statewide funding increase, some individual school districts will receive less in subsidies despite facing new mandates such as all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes for which funding won t be fully phased in for a decade.
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