Saturday, May 25, 2002

House standoff on tax unresolved in 3rd day


Ohio still has no budget deal; session goes on

By Leo Shane III
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS - Republican House leaders offered a compromise budget fix on Friday that included a reduction in the proposed cigarette tax, but appeared unable to gather enough votes to approve a deal.

        The stalemate between conservative House Republicans and Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, entered its third day on Friday. Both the Senate and House scheduled sessions for this weekend if a deal could not be reached late Friday, in an effort to balance the state budget.

        A $1.9 billion budget passed by the Senate on Tuesday relied heavily on a 50-cent increase in the state's current 24-cent per pack cigarette tax. That is estimated to bring in $370 million next fiscal year.

        But House members have pushed all week for a reduction in that tax or a provision to end it by 2005.

        Mr. Householder was circulating one proposal that would hike the cigarette by 31 cents per pack, which he said seemed more favorable to his caucus.

        Under that plan, the state would also add new taxes on certain types of business subsidiaries and take $90 million more from the state's school building assistance fund.

        Earlier in the week, the speaker had suggested he might introduce a cigarette tax sunset amendment, but no such provision was introduced.

        Mr. Householder said he was only two votes short of the 50 needed to pass the plan out of the House. Various lawmakers had reported the House was as many as 14 votes short earlier in the week.

        “We're putting proposals on the table and seeing what happens,” he said.

        Budget balancing measures also include a new tax on trust funds that would raise $119 million, plus $250 million in spending cuts from the governor. It would drain the state's $607 million rainy day fund, using more than $400 million to offset this fiscal year's deficit.

        Gov. Bob Taft spent time earlier this week phoning House members to secure their votes. He had maintained a 74-cent cigarette tax was necessary to balance the budget.

        After Mr. Householder's Friday compromise proposal, the governor still favored the original Senate plan, according to spokesman Joe Andrews.

        “But he would be willing to look at other things,” Mr. Andrews said. “The point is in the end it has to balance the budget.”

        Senate members barely passed the budget bill, voting to approve it 17-15 early Wednesday. Mr. Taft's aides have attempted to sway some Democratic House votes with phone calls this week, but party leaders have blasted those efforts as fruitless.

        Sen. Michael Shoemaker, D-Bourneville, said once the House has finalized its proposal, he will ask the attorney general to investigate whether Republicans leaders made improper offers to legislators in exchange for their votes.

        Mr. Shoemaker would not reveal specifics, but said House members were being improperly offered state funds for their district as well as various political favors.

       



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