State budget could have local impact

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 6, 2003

While lawmakers gear up for months of debate and compromise in the budgeting process, Gov. Bob Taft's proposed plan could have a big impact on agencies and services in Lawrence County.

Taft introduced his $49.2 billion budget Monday that must be approved by the state legislature by June 30 for the two-year term that begins July 1.

However, before the legislature addresses the future, they must resolve a $720 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year ending in June. Taft has told legislators they only have a few weeks to decide whether to accept his proposal to increase several types of taxes or come up with their own solution.

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''There is very little good news in this budget for anyone,'' Taft said.

State legislature

State Sen. John Carey of the 17th District, said the legislature is facing two separate issues -- coming up with a temporary fix for the existing budget and preparing the 2003-2005 budget.

Carey said he sees good and bad in the proposal, but thinks the legislature "has a long way to go before getting a budget ready to be voted upon."

"I compare the budgeting process to a football game. The governor's speech is the kickoff and it appearing before the legislature is the first play," he said. "I do not think the budget will look the same way after it goes through the legislature."

Carey said he likes the Governor's plan to increase funding to schools and bring the DeRolph lawsuit to a close. On the other hand, Carey said he is concerned about the additional need for tax increases.

Because a tax increase of some kind may be necessary, Carey said the idea of a

temporary sales tax has been discussed in the Senate to solve the current budget problem.


Despite cuts in some areas, Taft's proposal still increases total state spending by 4.9 percent next year and 4.2 percent the following year.

Taft proposes to balance the current budget and generate approximately

$3 billion over the next two years by expanding the sales tax to services such as real estate and cable TV and increasing taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.

"When the governor put the cigarette tax on last fall, it almost killed our cigarette business," said Sue Selb, owner of Shamrock Carryout in Ironton. "If he puts another one on us, it would be devastating."

Tim Gearhart, owner of Tim's News & Novelties, agreed that last year's increase of 22 cents was bad enough, and could not believe another 45 cent increase is proposed.

"If the governor wants to ban the sale of cigarettes, then he should just a pass a law," he said. "The tax has not increased revenue and has not stopped anyone from smoking. It has just drove business to another state."

Because only 25 percent of the population smokes and a low percentage votes, Taft sees smokers as easy targets, Gearhart said.

"There is going to be less business, fewer businesses and fewer employees, even if the businesses remain" he said. "We are on a spiraling path downward anyway and this certainly won't help."

State agencies

More than 20 state agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transpor-tation will suffer budget cuts in the next two years, Taft said.

Kathleen Fuller, public information officer for ODOT District 9, said it will not affect projects such as Phase 1A and 1B of the Chesapeake Bypass, but could affect future stages and other projects.

The department will continue planning the Ironton-Russell Bridge replacement as if all the money was there because more than $35 million is earmarked for the project and "there are no guarantees where the funding will come from on any construction project."

Taft also said 15,000 fewer families would be eligible for child care help under proposed changes meant to slow the growth of the state's child care subsidy program.

Buddy Martin, director of the Lawrence County Jobs and Family Services, agreed with both McDonald and Carey that it is still too early to determine exact effects or get worried.

Service fees

Taft's proposed plan would also raise about $86 million in two years by increasing fees on dozens of state services from hunting licenses to funeral home owner fees.

Recreational activities administered through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources would be the largest group of services affected. Hunting and fishing licenses would increase, and the department would institute a reduced price for permits for senior citizens who currently get free licenses.

Jim Marshall, district manager for District 4 of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said

they requested the increase because the department would be operating at a deficit without it.

Hunting and fishing licenses have not increased since 1994 and approximately 95 percent of the department's revenues and expenditures come from the license sales, he said.

"Almost everyone in the agency are hunters or fishermen," he said. "We do not want to see this any more than other anglers or hunters, but it is necessary."

Licenses for 2004 will increase from $15 to $19. Deer permits will increase from $20 to $24. ODNR will also cut the free licenses for senior citizens but will offer a $10 reduced rate.

Marshall said anyone born before Jan. 1, 1938, will be grandfathered in and will still receive the licenses for free.

"We have made progress that will benefit hunters, fishermen, trappers and the general citizens that like to enjoy wild life," he said, "Now is a critical time to continue this progress."


Taft proposes spending a state record of $17.6 billion on primary and secondary education including state and federal funds, about a 2- percent increase.

"You find that 2 percent at the top does not shake out to 2 percent at the bottom," Dawson-Bryant Superinten-dent James Payne said. "It makes it difficult on superintendents to balance their budget because the are holding their breath waiting on the state to fix their budget."

Even though they may actually get less money than they received this year, regardless of the percentages, Taft's budget ignores the biggest problem, Payne said.

"It causes concern because we have a funding system that has already been declared unconstitutional three times," he said. "They have not met the court mandate for a constitutional system that is not over reliant on property taxes to fund education."

The budget also recommends $1.6 billion in basic aid for Ohio's public colleges and universities next year, a 3-percent increase and $1.7 billion the following year, a 4-percent increase.

Taft also wants to reinstitute a tuition rate cap and set it at 6 percent each year.

Dan Evans, dean of Ohio University Southern, said that tuition at OUS is lowest of the six OU campuses and a cap would not affect them much.

"Imposing a cap is not likely to have major impact on this campus," he said. "We have tried to keep tuition as low as possible."

Overall, Evans said the governor's proposal was a good place to start.

"I am very encouraged that Gov. Taft does include increases to higher education support each of the next 2 years," he said. "But, I continue to be concerned that Ohio has not invested heavily enough in higher education even though I realize we have gone through some tough economic times."


Under the proposed budget, the Head Start early education program will be able to enroll 4,000 fewer children.

Mike McDonald, Head Start program director for the Lawrence County CAO said it is too soon to tell but could potentially have a big effect on the services provided.

"It could mean some changes, some dramatic changes. The full impact I am not sure of yet," he said. "It could instill a different emphasis on the types of services head start could provide and may focus on short-term results rather than long-term development."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.