Friday, May 04, 2001

House approves $45B budget

Republicans push two-year bill adding $1.4 billion to education

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio House on Thursday approved a $45 billion, two-year spending plan that includes $1.4 billion in new spending on primary and secondary education, a priority with the state facing a court-imposed deadline to change its school-funding formula by June 15.

        The 59-40 vote, which fell strictly along party lines with majority Republicans prevailing, sent the budget bill to the Senate, where the education portion is likely to remain intact. Republicans in both chambers agreed to most of the education proposals before they went into the plan.

        The vote followed the second straight day of marathon discussions. Thursday's floor vote came at 2:51 a.m. The House Finance Committee voted to recommend the bill after 6 a.m. Wednesday. Overall, the committee met for 263 hours and heard testimony from 868 witnesses, both records for a single bill, Chairman John Carey said.

        “This budget has received more debate, more ideas and more scrutiny than any budget in modern history,” said Mr. Carey, a Wellston Republican. “We had hearings and lots of them, and we listened.”

        Democrats were united in their opposition. They said the cuts made in the original budget proposal of Republican Gov. Bob Taft disproportionately affected services to the elderly and the poor.

        “This budget allocates too much of the pain to those least able to accept it,” said Dale Miller, a Cleveland Democrat.

        In all, the Republicans stopped six Democratic amendments that would have changed the school funding formula, kept the 6 percent college tuition cap for both years — the bill would remove it in the second year — and restored funding for the Ohio Women's Policy and Research Commission, among other things. The votes fell along party lines.

        House and Senate Republicans said the cuts were necessary because of the need to find as much money as possible for schools, and to fill an $800 million hole created by a shortfall in expected state revenues.

        The Democrats, however, said the cuts did not improve the school funding problem enough to satisfy the Ohio Supreme Court, which has twice ruled Ohio's funding formula unconstitutional. In the case named for the student for whom it was filed, Nathan DeRolph of Perry County, the formula has been found to be too reliant on local property taxes to guarantee a thorough and efficient for every Ohio child.

        “I think this bill falls short on DeRolph, it falls short on the issue of reliance,” said Minority Leader Jack Ford, a Toledo Democrat. “I guess within three or four years, some of our school districts will be back on the (school) levy treadmill.”

        Speaker Larry Householder of Glenford said after his first budget passage that the Democrats were cordial in their dealings with the majority party and he didn't think hard feelings over the budget vote would linger.

        “I continued to work with Jack Ford and the Democrats right up until the bell rang,” Mr. Householder said. “I don't believe it affects our relationship with them one little bit.”

        Mr. Ford said he didn't think it would be a problem either, in part because of the respect that goes with holding your caucus together.

        “We stood together, but his caucus stood together, too. That surprised me,” Mr. Ford said.

        The legislature wants the bill sent to Mr. by June 1, two weeks before the court deadline. By law, he must sign it by June 30.


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