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Cutback may hurt local government

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Monday, February 12, 2001

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Cutback may hurt local government

ALLEN BLAIR

The Ironton Tribune

Lawrence County’s elected officials say the governor’s plan to cut back state spending might devastate local governments.

The governments, including the county, city and townships, rely on state funds when they make their local budgets, and a proposed freeze in funding equal to levels for the year 2000 budget will hurt, commission president Paul Herrell said.

County officeholders discussed the situation at a meeting last week.

The county receives different monies from the state, like road funds and Issue II money for the engineer’s office, for example, Herrell said.

Townships use state money, too, he said.

"We’re prepared to handle it as a county, but I hope he doesn’t sign it," Herrell said.

The commission is asking elected officials to send letters to state legislators urging the governor to rethink his plan.

Gov. Bob Taft’s two-year, $45 billion budget proposed freezing three funds used to assist local governments, to save about $220 million over two years. The funds benefit cities, townships, counties and public libraries.

Taft is calling his budget the tightest in a decade. He had to balance slowing revenues with an Ohio Supreme Court order to fix Ohio’s school-funding system. Taft dedicated more than 50 percent of new spending on education to address the court’s ruling.

Taft also pledged not to raise taxes to meet the state’s financial obligations.

The governor emphasized that his local government freeze is a one-time step that does not involve cuts. The state had to do the same thing during the poor national economy a decade ago, he said. After that, increased funding to local governments resumed.

To sell that freeze, Taft has to work with dozens of state lawmakers who cut their teeth as local government officials relying on those funds.

”There’s going to be some difficulties,” acknowledged House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Glenford and a former Perry County commissioner.

Senate Finance Chairman Doug White, a former Adams County commissioner, said the freeze’s impact could be serious, especially for county commissioners.

”They just passed their budgets in early January, and I’m sure they were counting on a lot of those moneys flowing in,” said White, a Manchester Republican.

House Finance Chairman John Carey was a two-term mayor in Wellston in southern Ohio before his election as a state representative six years ago. He represents part of Lawrence County.

As a former local official, Carey said, he’s sensitive to local governments’ needs. But lawmakers have a responsibility to pass the budget.

”I think that the people here know what the budget realities are and I’m sure they’ll be sensitive to local government as well,” said Carey, a Republican.

”All we can do is present the budget and present the facts to the Legislature and they’re going to have to take it from there,” Taft said. ”How they will receive it, I don’t know.”