Ohio Senate Republicans offer budget fix alternative, but rejected by Democrats

By Stephen Majors, AP
Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ohio lawmakers deadlocked again on budget fix

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers were deadlocked once again on how to fix Ohio’s budget, as a Senate Republican proposal blending most of Gov. Ted Strickland’s tax cut delay with a slew of other funding sources met with swift Democratic opposition.

The GOP proposal calls for a delay of 2.8 percent in income tax reductions instead of Strickland’s plan to delay an entire 4.2 percent cut to fix an $850 million budget gap. The Republicans also call for taking $30 million over two years from a fund to help with affordable housing and housing assistance for the poor, and using $30 million from license fees that recently approved casinos will soon fork over.

In addition, the GOP proposal calls for opening up Salt Fork State Park to oil and gas drilling, which Republicans said would bring in an expected $10 million in the 2011 fiscal year.

Also included are prison sentencing reforms whose goal would be to reduce the number of inmates and use more community control options on nonviolent offenders. The changes would save an estimated $50 million over two years.

But the 12-member Senate Democratic caucus, which would have to supply votes to make up for any Republicans still reluctant to approve any tax change, was unwilling to consider the GOP proposal on Wednesday. Any proposal would need at least 17 votes to pass in the 33-member chamber.

“It is in conflict with our core values and counts on money that can’t be relied on,” Sen. Capri Caffaro, a Hubbard Democrat who serves as minority leader, said in a statement. “The Senate Democratic Caucus is unified in opposition to the substitute budget plan offered today by Senate Republicans.”

Lawmakers encountered a similar impasse early this summer when Strickland proposed establishing slot machines at horse racing tracks to balance the budget. A deal was eventually worked out after multiple temporary budgets were approved. But a court ruling giving the opportunity to opponents to put the slots up for a referendum derailed the plan, leaving the current gap for lawmakers to fill.

Wednesday, Senate President Bill Harris, R-Ashland, said Republicans have presented a strong compromise.

He described the other revenue measures as “opportunities to find money in different places to where we don’t have to restrict returning to the taxpayers of this great state the money that we have all committed that we would return to them.

“Now, you can say that if you are a little bit pregnant, you’re always pregnant,” Harris said. “And I wouldn’t argue that.”

The final income tax reduction is part of a five-year, 21 percent reduction that began in 2005 as part of wide-ranging tax changes whose goal was to attract business investment in the state.

Strickland told Harris in a phone call that he was disappointed with the Senate proposal, said spokeswoman Amanda Wurst.

“The governor put forth a common sense and responsible solution that earned the support of the Ohio House, Senate Democrats, business leaders and members of the education community,” Wurst said. “The only thing standing in the way is the leadership of the Ohio Senate.”

A Senate session was canceled late Wednesday after it was clear the two sides would not reach a deal.

The Democratic-controlled House previously approved Strickland’s proposal for delay of the full tax cut, and would have to approve any alternate proposal before it could become law.

Neither chamber had any session days scheduled during the week of the Thanksgiving holiday, putting any budget fix off until early December unless lawmakers decide to rearrange their schedule.

The Ohio Department of Taxation will have to put out withholding tables for tax information after the year ends, and ongoing delays will make it more difficult to adjust tax instruction mailings.

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