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Budget process more collaborative than in 2003

The budget deadline is still 2 1/2 months away, but based on the $51 billion spending plan's journey through the Ohio House, the process is much more collegial than two years ago.

In 2003, a House-Senate committee charged with resolving differences between their respective versions of the budget stayed up all night and then some, coming to an agreement late in the morning on June 19.

The battle over that budget pitted Gov. Bob Taft against then-Speaker Larry Householder and then-Senate President Doug White over what to cut. All are Republicans.

Although the budget was held up while leaders looked for ways to close a billion-dollar deficit in the joint hearings, disagreement among the leaders also played a part.

That friction so far is missing this year, White said last week. Taft, Senate President Bill Harris and House Speaker Jon Husted share many of the same goals, White said.

''They started a lot earlier communication at the leadership level to get to an area of agreement at least in concept of what the end game will try to achieve,'' said White, now Taft's director at the Ohio Department of Commerce.

Another factor has been the Republicans, who hold solid majorities in both chambers, are less reliant on the Democrats than two years ago. Many House Republicans refused to support a penny-per-dollar sales tax increase and voted against the budget. Five Democrats gave Householder the majority he needed for passage.

This year, Rep. Dixie Allen of Dayton was the only Democrat to endorse the plan, while eight Republicans voted against it. Hearings began in the Senate last week.

White said Householder's leadership style is in contrast to that of Husted.

''Larry was always more methodical in laying out his agenda to his members. Larry played his cards maybe a little more closely to his chest. We all play the game a little differently. I think Jon was just able to lay his cards on the table earlier with his members, with the governor and the president,'' White said.

A message seeking comment was left for Householder, now the Perry County auditor.

Sen. Robert Spada of North Royalton, the Senate's No. 4 Republican, agreed that the two chambers and the governor have been on the same page more than in the last budget, especially on Taft's plan to overhaul the state's Depression-era tax code.

''Maybe we're having more mutual talks and sessions with the speaker, the president and the governor. When there's more communication, things are a little easier,'' Spada said.

Senate Democratic leader C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland said it's too early to say how involved her caucus will become in the Senate negotiations. She said Taft's plan to cut taxes favored the rich while his program cuts hurt the poor. However, she stopped short of withholding support and said the ranking Democrats on Senate committees have been talking with Republican leaders.

''There continues to be the talk of a celebration of bipartisan effort and that clearly remains to be seen,'' Prentiss said. ''While many would say in working together it's all about relationships, but there comes a point where it's beyond relationships, it's about principle.''

Taft would welcome Democrats' support but said he's working against a June 30 deadline to sign a final version of the budget.

''Bipartisan is a lot better, but my goal is to get the budget passed,'' he said.

However, bipartisanship becomes difficult in a year before a statewide election, Spada said. All five executive offices are up for a vote next year.

''We're leading up to a gubernatorial election … and some groups are feeling they need to be more forceful and stand their ground a little more for political reasons. Then it's more difficult to pass bipartisan legislation and maybe that enters into it to some extent,'' Spada said.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins is the statehouse correspondent for The Ohio Associated Press.