Sunday, January 19, 2003

Ohio may have to shut down prison

Governor to address state Wednesday

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - The state will close one or more prisons, shut down a juvenile detention facility and eliminate an outdoors program for troubled youth to help balance the current budget, Gov. Bob Taft is expected to announce Wednesday.

Selecting these programs for elimination is a sign of how bad the budget shortfall is, a senior administration official said Saturday on condition of anonymity.

The proposal would close one or more of 33 prisons and one of eight Department of Youth Services Facilities. It also calls for saving $7 million by eliminating the Civilian Conservation Corps, a youth-employment program that narrowly escaped closure in past budget deals.

The cuts don't address the expected deficit for the next two-year budget, which starts in July, the official said. Mr. Taft is to make that proposal on Feb. 3.

He is expected to announce budget cuts and tax increases in his State of the State address on Wednesday, spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey said Friday in a taping for a television news program.

The governor must find "quick fixes" for an up to $500 million gap in the current budget, Ms. Sharkey said. Those also could include raising alcohol and cigarette taxes.

For the next two-year budget, Mr. Taft may propose reforms such as broadening the state sales tax to cover some services, Ms. Sharkey said. Mr. Taft must propose the budget by Feb. 3.

Gov. Taft will have a tough time convincing fellow Republicans in the Legislature - many of them elected with promises of no new taxes - to approve new taxes or increases, Ms. Sharkey said.

"He's going to have to bring a Republican-dominated legislature to the table to talk about raising new revenue," she said.

All of the state's prisons, including privately run ones in Ashtabula and Conneaut, will be reviewed for closure, said Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

"If the budget numbers we're looking at come true, we won't have a choice," he said.

Budget concerns last year led the state to close Orient Correctional Institution and units in other prisons. The Department of Youth Services closed Maumee Juvenile Correctional Facility in northwest Ohio in 2001, also because of budget concerns.

Closing Orient, located about 50 miles south of Columbus, saved about $40 million a year, Mr. Wilkinson said.

The prison system now is running at 124 percent of capacity but has operated at 150 percent in the past.

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