Friday, June 08, 2001

College cutbacks make Taft unhappy

By Debra Jasper
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        Higher-education officials need to do a better job of persuading state leaders to give them more money, Gov. Bob Taft said Thursday.

        A day after Mr. Taft signed off on a two-year, $44.9 billion budget, the governor said he was deeply disappointed in the cutbacks at universities and colleges. Lawmakers cut more than $200 million from the higher-education budget initially proposed by Mr. Taft.

        “Obviously, they didn't fare very well,” the governor said. "To effectively influence the legislature ... they need to re-examine how they go about generating grass-roots support beyond just university trustees and the lobbyists at universities.”

Gov. Taft
        Mr. Taft added, “In a very tough budget, you have a lot of suitors. The competition is brutal.”

        Mike Brown, spokesman for the Ohio Board of Regents, said Chancellor Roderick Chu agrees that despite an effort “unparalleled in 40 years,” lawmakers failed to understand that the success of higher-education ties directly into Ohio's economy. Mr. Brown said just 17 percent of Ohioans have college degrees.

        “You don't attract or retain high-tech jobs with a work force with no college experience,” Mr. Brown said. “We've got to get this understood.”

        The governor on Thursday also explained in more detail why he vetoed 49 provisions in the budget — the most any governor has vetoed in 26 years.

        Mr. Taft said he vetoed language earmarking money for certain items in order to maintain a balanced budget. The governor, for example, vetoed a measure that had allocated $460,000 to fix horse barns on the fairgrounds in House Speaker Larry Householder's home of Perry County.

        Mr. Taft said he is proud of the budget overall and is convinced the extra $1.4 billion Ohio is spending on schools — coupled with new academic standards — will meet a Supreme Court mandate to create a fair and equitable school funding system.

        “There is no question in this budget that schools were funded first. Everything else took a hit,” Mr. Taft said.

        The court is expected this summer to rule on whether Ohio's latest school funding plan is constitutional. If it forces lawmakers back to the table, Mr. Taft said it will, in essence, be ordering the legislature to raise taxes.

        Mr. Taft reiterated that Ohio is going through tough economic times and said this budget is the “tightest in a decade.” The $44.9 billion budget increases spending by $5.3 billion over last year — a 13.3 percent jump.


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