Sunday, January 28, 2001

Taft's proposed budget: $44.9B

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Gov. Bob Taft on Monday will propose a two-year budget costing almost $44.9 billion, or 10.3 percent more than the state is spending in the current budget period, a senior Taft administration official said Saturday.

        Despite the increase, most agencies will be asked to operate within an average 0.8 percent increase in current levels. The biggest increases in the $44.87 billion budget will go toward education, increasing costs in the Medicaid program for low-income families and the state prisons system, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

        Mr. Taft has said he is committed to increasing spending with current revenue, without raising taxes. However, an economic slowdown has affected tax collections, and public employees unions have promised to fight cuts in services. Mr. Taft has said job cuts are likely, but he hopes to accomplish those without layoffs.

        In 1999, Mr. Taft signed a $39.8 billion budget that was split into two parts: $17.2 billion for education and $22.6 billion for all other programs. A jump in Medicaid payments, which the state shares with the federal government, likely will bring total spending for the period to $40.7 billion by the end of the budget year June 30, the administration official said.

        The new budget also will be introduced in the Legislature in separate bills for education and for other state services. A breakdown of the spending totals for each bill was not available Saturday.

        Mr. Taft has promised to spend half of all new revenue on education. The administration and the Legislature are preparing a response to the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling that the way the state funds its public schools relies too much on local property taxes.

        In his State of the State speech last week, Mr. Taft outlined his proposal to increase per-pupil spending in public schools from $4,490 in the next budget year to $5,484 by 2006.

        The Senate last week introduced legislation that would provide $4,566 in fiscal year 2002 and $4,694 in fiscal year 2003. The legislation did not project through 2006.

        Mr. Taft will announce his budget proposal Monday. The Legislature will then add its priorities and send the two bills to Mr. Taft, who must sign them before July 1.


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