Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Education, economy dominate Taft State of the State agenda




By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — In his third State of the State address, Gov. Bob Taft will announce his plan to fix the way Ohio funds its schools and urge lawmakers to endorse recommendations to overhaul student testing.

        Today's speech, midway through Mr. Taft's first term, is pivotal, because a court mandate is forcing more spending on education just as the slowing economy forces the governor to sell across-the-board budget cuts.

        Mr. Taft also is expected to announce a plan to use surplus welfare funds to help Ohioans hit by high heating bills. He signaled he would discuss ways the state can help LTV Steel Co., which had to go to bankruptcy court to avoid a shutdown and the loss of 4,500 Cleveland-area jobs.

        The governor is expected to announce that his $50 million OhioReads program has recruited more than 20,000 volunteers — surpassing the goal he set when he took office in January 1999.

        Mr. Taft's fellow Republicans who control the Legislature are waiting until the day after his speech to introduce a spate of bills dealing with changes to the state's proficiency testing and school-funding systems.

        Ohio has until June 15 to respond to an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the state's school-funding system is unconstitutional because its reliance on local property taxes leaves poor districts at a disadvantage.

        “I'd like to hear his thoughts as far as school funding and his thoughts as far as quality of education in Ohio,” said House Speaker Larry Householder, a Glenford Republican, who said he's received only “brief overviews” of the governor's plan.

        “I think we're all in for some surprises (today),” he said.

        Mr. Taft said last week his two-year operating budget will assume a small increase in tax revenues — much smaller than in past years — but will not assume a decline. He told state agencies last month to cut their budgets 2 percent to 4 percent for the next six months because of a slowing economy and a $249 million Medicaid bailout.

        As term limits reduce the Legislature's influence, pressure increases on Mr. Taft to set the agenda in this speech, said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics.

        Said Rep. Jack Ford of Toledo, the House's top-ranking Democrat, “He now is getting ready to hit that mode when it's re-election time. People are going to be making serious judgments about his performance, so I hope he comes in with a bold agenda, and asks the Legislature to help.”

Officials seek heat solutions
Taft wants more for seniors and disabled
- Education, economy dominate Taft State of the State agenda
       



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