Ohio moderates’ budget fix meets immovable forces in conservatives, Democratic governor

By Stephen Majors, AP
Friday, November 20, 2009

Ohio moderates’ budget fix meets immovable forces

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A few moderate Ohio senators trying to craft a compromise to fix Ohio’s budget gap are being thwarted by two opposing forces: the majority of Republican senators who adamantly oppose any portion of Gov. Ted Strickland’s tax cut delay, and the Democratic governor’s outright rejection of the compromise.

The immediate rejection Wednesday by Strickland and fellow Democrats is likely to further fuel the majority of Republicans’ intransigence toward his tax plan.

In an attempt to gain votes from enough senators opposed to Strickland’s 4.2 percent income tax cut delay, a handful of GOP moderates proposed several sweeteners: measures to address Ohio’s longer-term budget instability and other proposals favored by individual senators.

The proposals — including opening up Salt Fork State Park to oil and gas drilling, implementing prison sentence reforms, and restoring a chunk of funding that has been cut for private and parochial schools — were coupled with reducing Strickland’s tax proposal to 2.8 percent.

But it didn’t fly. The tax cut delay, which many Republicans view as a tax hike, overshadowed everything else. And on Thursday, in an illustration of the GOP divide, the Cincinnati-based Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes sent out a statement praising the “renegade” senators and questioning whether Senate President Bill Harris, a supporter of the compromise proposal, was fit to lead Republicans.

Since the Senate GOP proposal didn’t have enough support from its own members, it needed help from Democrats. But they were all opposed, and the proposal never made it to a committee vote.

So a compromise designed to bring support from both Republicans and Democrats failed on both counts, leaving Ohio without a fix for its $850 million budget hole before Thanksgiving.

Sen. John Carey, a Wellston Republican who was one of the few GOP senators to support the compromise proposal, said he hoped the Republican offer would have been greeted more openly by Strickland.

“It is a political season,” Carey said. “The more that there’s political posturing on either side, the harder it’s going to get. That’s why I think it’s important to sit down and be constructive in the debate.

“Instead of the governor releasing statements to the media, we wanted to sit down and talk with him,” Carey said.

Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said the governor’s response that the Senate plan was “irresponsible” would probably further embolden GOP senators adamantly opposed to his tax plan.

“They are playing a very dangerous game,” Seitz said. “The vast majority of our caucus has lined up behind plans that contain no deferral of the tax cut and choices that I would think would be less palatable to the governor and House Democrats.”

But a day later, the governor still said the GOP proposal is a nonstarter because it increases state spending, budgets money from oil and gas drilling and sentencing reform that would either be premature or grossly optimistic, and takes funds from important programs, such as affordable housing assistance. The Senate budgeted $10 million in the 2011 fiscal year from drilling, but that figure would be no more than $500,000 a year, the administration said.

“This is not a reasonable or responsible proposal,” spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said Thursday. “It’s not supported by a majority of the Senate majority. The governor has said his door would remain open and that he’s willing to discuss realistic and responsible proposals.”

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