Thursday, March 15, 2001

Taft calls school-funding truce

General Assembly leaders feuding

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Gov. Bob Taft, on a mission of goodwill in South America, is working hard to get fellow Republicans to stop feuding back home.

        The governor called Wednesday for a school-funding summit with House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale.

        The three will try to iron out their very different and competing plans to reform school funding, during a private meeting Monday in the governor's Columbus office.

        “I believe it is imperative that we establish a mutual understanding of how we are going to responsibly harmonize the three plans so that we may present a unified response to the Supreme Court in June,” the governor said in a memo to the two GOP leaders.

        Public bitterness among the three leaders erupted Monday when Mr. Householder unveiled a two-year, $3.2 billion education-reform package. The proposal far outspends the $1.3 billion proposal Senate Republicans support and Mr. Taft's more austere $808 million plan.

        Though Mr. Householder and Mr. Finan promise to attend, they said little else Wednesday.

        “The president of the Senate wants to harmonize these bills,” Mr. Finan said, referring to himself. “The president of the Senate wants to get a bill done.”

        Mr. Householder said of the governor: “I think it's going to be good to talk with him.”

        While Mr. Taft and Mr. Finan have had little to say about the speaker's plan, their deputies have spent time criticizing it as too expensive.

        State Sen. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, said the plan would spend $1 billion more than the state has on hand. Tom Johnson, Mr. Taft's budget director, told reporters there is no way it can work without a tax increase.

        Mr. Householder's proposal is the only one to receive the support of a coalition of schools that has twice successfully sued the state over the way it pays for education. He said concerns over how it will be funded would be worked out during the budget process.

        Meanwhile, controversy continues to dog a related proposal that would put casino-style slot machines at Ohio's seven racetracks.

        Mr. Finan questioned statistics showing the slots would raise up to $900 million over the next two years.

        “I think all the numbers that are floating around right now are being put out by the advocates,” he said.

        Despite that, Mr. Finan said, he'd support the racetrack proposal if the other leaders agree on it.


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