Wednesday, June 4, 2003

$140M added to budget plan

GOP lures Democrats' support

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - With major tax hikes on the horizon, Senate GOP leaders agreed on Tuesday to spend another $140 million to get Democrats to support their budget plan.

The extra spending, intended to keep more Ohioans covered under Medicaid, more children in day care and more seniors out of nursing homes, would increase the two-year budget to $49.4 billion. That's $200 million more than Gov. Bob Taft asked for and about $800 million more than the House proposed.

Senate GOP leaders agreed to increase spending by about $140 million over the next two years to win Democratic support for their budget plan.
Here are some of the major changes to the plan.
Health care: Restores coverage to 50,000 parents in low-income families.
Day care: Restores funding for 25,000 children
Public schools: Restores $23.6 million in proposed state aid cuts.
Source: Senate Democrats
Senate President Doug White, R-Manchester said he needs Democrats' support to overcome the opposition of conservative Republican lawmakers. They object to a temporary penny-on-the-dollar increase in the state sales tax that would bring in up to $2.5 billion over the next two years.

While Democrats said the plan still doesn't do enough to reform business taxes, four minority members of the Senate Finance Committee, including Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati, voted for the plan, which passed out of committee 12-1.

"We feel this is a significant enough improvement that this is worthy of our support," said Sen. Eric Fingerhut, D-Cleveland, the ranking minority party member on the committee.

Senate Minority Leader Greg DiDonato, D-Dennison, said several of his members will help pass the bill in the full Senate Thursday morning.

That vote will start a third round of negotiations between the House and Senate.

Taft's budget director, Tom Johnson, warned late Tuesday that sagging income tax returns will leave the state $200 million short on cash in the four remaining weeks of the state fiscal year.

"It just hasn't happened," Johnson said of an economic recovery that economists projected for the first six months of 2003.

Democrats said they won key concessions that would help Ohio's poor and elderly get through the recession.

One change would preserve a state program that provides health coverage to an estimated 50,000 Ohio families. Another would keep day care services going for roughly 25,000 children out of an estimated 100,000 who figured to lose state day-care subsidies.

The budget would also include restored funding for Passport, a program that helps seniors live in their own homes with help, instead of in nursing homes.

The budget would cap losses of urban school districts at no more than 5 percent of what they would have received from the state. That would restore another $23.6 million in state funding over the next two years.

Leo Shane III contributed to this report. E-mail

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