Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Lawmakers labor over budget issues

Added proposals delay Ohio plan

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Lawmakers labored late Tuesday evening over a long list of last-minute funding proposals that would affect things from a $1.4 billion school funding fix to vaccinations for uninsured children.

        House Finance Committee members hoped to advance an extensive budget bill to a point where the full House could pass it today. Late Tuesday, an amendment that would install more than 100 changes to the two-year, $44.9 billion funding plan had not emerged.

        One of the more significant amendments Republicans were debating involved a possible funding boost for nursing homes. Declining enrollment at nursing homes across Ohio led Gov. Bob Taft to push a $250 million cut in promised funding.

        Lawmakers also were considering some changes to the school funding plan contained in the budget bill. The plan is the General Assembly's response to an Ohio Supreme Court order to narrow the funding gap between the state's rich and poor schools.

        State Rep. Jim Trakas, R-Independence, said one proposal would change state special education standards. Another would offer more money to urban districts to cover their higher costs of doing business.

        A third option would change a portion of the school funding plan intended to replace state funds that schools lose to increased property tax assessments.

        Interest groups representing nursing homes urged lawmakers to consider a variety of proposals that would help ease their losses or increase their funding.

        One such plan would let the state increase a per-bed tax. Nursing homes could claim the increase as a cost in order to get a larger overall payment from the federal government.

        The committee did act on four amendments, the biggest of which would take $9 million from the state's prison system and use it instead to help fund halfway houses over the next two years. The amendment orders prison officials not to lay off guards or close a prison to cover the loss.

        Another amendment would set aside $300,000 over the next two years to offer an extra 6,000 immunizations to children whose families lack health insurance.

        Earlier in the day, a coalition of teacher unions and urban school officials held a press conference at the Capitol, urging lawmakers to rethink their budget priorities and provide more money for schools. Among them were two Cincinnati Public Schools volunteers who said the state's budget plan would harm the district.

        Cincinnati schools would receive a 0.7 percent increase in state aid next school year and a 1.5 percent increase the year after that.

        Though it's more money, CPS officials say it's way too low.

        “Cincinnati Public, I think was heading in the right direction. It's a lot better than it used to be,” said Claude Henderson, a CPS parent and volunteer. “I think this budget puts us right back where we were before.”


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