Budget bill to Senate

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 10, 2003


The Senate will begin working on a state budget bill in two weeks that proposes spending $48.5 billion over two years and giving Ohioans a choice about how to raise new dollars needed to do so.

On Thursday, the House voted 53-46 - with five urban Democrats siding with majority Republicans - to send the Senate a budget bill that would allow voters in November to rescind a temporary state sales tax increase by approving electronic slot machines at racetracks.

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''It's extortion,'' said David Zanotti, president of Ohio Roundtable, a public policy group that opposes the expansion of gambling. ''These are two things the people of Ohio have said they don't want, but the House wants to force them to choose one of them.''

Gov. Bob Taft, who wanted permanent tax increases to raise new revenue, has said he likely would veto any gambling provision in the bill, which must be enacted by July 1.

''The governor has said that he would want it to be before the people as a ballot initiative, so that's what we've got - ballot language going on the ballot. We'll see what the people say,'' said Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Glenford.

If voters approve the gambling expansion, the 1-cent increase to the current 5-cents-per-dollar state sales tax, which would start this July 1, would end on June 30, 2004. If they don't, the increase would end a year later.

The tax boost would generate about $1.2 billion more each year. Revenue from the slot machines is estimated at about $400 million to $900 million a year.

The issue sparked a contentious exchange among lawmakers on the House floor Wednesday night before the budget vote.

''I think there are 11 million people who want to engage in this debate. Let's let our voters make a decision,'' Rep. Jim Raussen, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, told his colleagues.

Rep. Timothy Grendell, a Republican from Chesterland, said he doesn't mind giving voters a choice, ''but choice has a free-will component, and to me it's not a choice. It's coercion.''

The House bill includes about $600 million in reductions to the $49.2 billion budget Taft had proposed. More than half of those House cuts to Taft's budget - or $363 million - were in funding areas for primary and secondary schools.

The budget also expands the tax to more services, such as tattooing, tanning and towing, streamlines the municipal income tax, and maintains or cuts spending for most state agencies over the next two years.

Among them, the Board of Regents, which oversees the state's public colleges and universities, would get $137 million less than what it is receiving in the current two-year budget. Taft had asked for a $174 million boost from current funding.