Friday, April 4, 2003

House offers budget trims

Change in school funding proposed

By Jim Siegel
and Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Universities and colleges would take a state funding hit and schools could lose millions if students skip class under a House budget proposal introduced Thursday.

The House Finance Committee cobbled together a list of budget cuts. The plan was long on changes to Gov. Bob Taft's proposed $49.2 billion two-year budget but short on details. Conspicuously absent were estimates showing how much money House Republicans intended to cut from the governor's spending plan.

The committee chairman, Rep. Charles Calvert, R-Medina, said members so far cut $1.8 billion from Taft's budget. That falls far short of a total $3 billion lawmakers hoped to carve out.

House GOP leaders have refused to go along with Taft's demands for $3.1 billion in tax increases. Instead, lawmakers have presented a tax reform plan designed to make sweeping changes but raise only $100 million a year.

Details on exactly where the House committee came up with $1.8 billion in savings were not available, but it was obvious members were struggling to find it.

Rep. David Evans, R-Newark, who was in charge of examining transportation and criminal justice budgets, was asked by leadership to trim $450 million from Taft's budget. His subcommittee came up with $108 million.

A wide variety of proposals are on the table. They include major cuts to local government and library funding, reducing or eliminating the 12.5 percent the state pays of local property taxes, video slot machines, or a temporary 1-percent sales tax increase. "If people don't want to go the cut route, they're going to have to come up with different scenarios," said Brett Buerck, chief of staff for House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford.

Offering vague commentary, lawmakers outlined their budget proposals Thursday. Schools will see modest increases in per-pupil base funding each year, but a change in how those pupils are counted has some educators concerned.

The current formula takes a three-year average of students counted during the first week of October.

The proposed plan would count only one year, and pupil figures could change during the year as average daily attendance is computed from month to month.

If enrollment drops, schools can lose up to 5 percent of state funding. They can also pick up state money if attendance goes up.

"It's an incentive to ensure that more children are in school," said committee member Rep. Jon Husted, R-Kettering.

Cincinnati Public Schools' funding is based on having an average of 43,645 students daily over the past three years, Treasurer Mike Geoghegan said. He said its daily average this year is 42,581 students.

The difference would cost the system $5.5 million, Geoghegan said.

"We can't afford to lose a dime," he said.

Husted did not know how much the attendance change would save the state in school funding.

Lawmakers' plans for universities and colleges were likewise vague.

The plan calls for a reorganization of six university medical schools and for the shutdown of one law school. It would also freeze any planned expansions of university campuses.

Another provision would cut other higher education expenses by 2.5 percent.

Officials at the Board of Regents, the group that oversees Ohio's universities and community colleges, said the lack of details left them unwilling to comment about how much money higher education would lose.

"This raises as many questions as it does answers," said Jamie Abel, a Regents spokesman.

Lawmakers appeared to leave intact most of Taft's plan to cut $468 million in state Medicaid funds over the next two years. Including federal dollars, the cut totals more than $1 billion.

The key unanswered question was whether lawmakers plan to freeze state Medicaid payments to nursing homes, which would save $223 million over two years.

The plan does lift a payment freeze to Ohio's children's hospitals. That decision will increase state Medicaid costs $6 million over two years, according to the Department of Job and Family Services.

Cindi Andrews and Leo Shane III contributed to this story. E-mail

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