Friday, November 16, 2001

Tax-hike battle stalls Ohio budget

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Lawmakers must find compromises in two vastly different budget deficit fixes after the Senate approved its version of the budget bill and the House refused to accept the changes.

        “There's just a difference of opinion on how to handle this,” said House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. “I think it's good for everyone to sit down and work through this.”

        Senate President Richard Finan, a Republican from Evendale, said the Senate believes that “virtually everything” in the Senate's bill is non-negotiable.

        A conference committee, made up of members from both Republican-controlled chambers, is expected to meet within weeks to resolve the differences. Lawmakers want the bill completed by Dec. 4.

        The budget proposals followed Gov. Bob Taft's announcement last month of a projected $1.5 billion budget deficit by the end of 2002.

        On Wednesday, Mr. Taft said Senate lawmakers were fiscally irresponsible and lacked political courage to enact targeted tax increases on businesses. Mr. Finan lashed back, saying lawmakers, not Mr. Taft, had the guts to stand up for taxpayers.

        When asked Thursday whether the governor would be involved in the committee discussions, Mr. Finan said, “We'll see.” Mr. Householder said Mr. Taft's office should be involved because the responsibility of a balanced budget ultimately falls to the executive branch.

        Joe Andrews, Mr. Taft's spokesman, said the governor's office intends to work with the committee.

        Mr. Finan said there was no way the Senate will agree to a plan that includes a tax increase.

        “If we do that, then we've just wasted everything we've done here,” Mr. Finan said. “My caucus was adamant that they wanted to stand up for the taxpayers ... so we found alternate ways to fund the situation.”

        The House plan raises $344 million in targeted business tax increases.

        Other issues include whether a multistate lottery will be used to raise $41 million, as well as just how much money should be borrowed from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement and used from the state's rainy day fund.

        The Senate bill would join the multistate lottery, which the House had stripped from Mr. Taft's plan.

        It also borrows $309 million in tobacco money, while the House proposes $240 million and Mr. Taft $100 million.

        The Senate bill proposes using $180 million from the rainy day fund, while the House and Mr. Taft want to use $280 million.


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