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Legislature, officials work to cut spending

The state’s $50.5 billion, two-year operating budget that Gov. Ted Strickland signed last month included more than $2.4 billion in difficult, but necessary, spending cuts to state programs and services.

Nearly every area of state government will share in the impact of these cuts, including the General Assembly and statewide officeholders.

The House and Senate, for example, took a 10 percent cut in their general revenue fund appropriations over the amount proposed in the governor’s as introduced version of the budget. As a result, the Senate will receive less money in fiscal year 2010 than it did in fiscal year 1997.

In addition, both chambers routinely spend less than they were allocated and return money at the end of each fiscal year. In July 2008, House and Senate leaders returned more than $2.7 million to state coffers.

The Senate is working to save money in several ways, including increased use of electronic records, reductions in mileage reimbursement rates, a prohibition on travel reimbursements and the implementation of a new Internet-based phone system that has reduced the Senate’s phone bill from $114,000 a year to about $10,000.

The House has also worked to reduce costs by consolidating staff duties. Furthermore, no legislator has received a pay increase and staff in both chambers will not get raises in the coming year.

It is also important to note that the Ohio General Assembly has been recognized as one of the most fiscally-responsible legislatures in the nation.

A study by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that Ohio spent the least per capita on legislative staff and operations of any state in the country according to data from 2007.

During work on the Senate version of the budget, Senate President Bill Harris and I contacted statewide elected officials, including Auditor Mary Taylor, Attorney General Richard Cordray, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Treasurer Kevin Boyce, to ask if they would accept a cut in funding over the next two years.

All of them graciously agreed, and since then, their offices have taken important steps to reduce costs through mandatory furlough days, pay cuts, eliminating positions, cancelling unnecessary contracts, reducing mileage reimbursements and other key moves.

In addition, the governor’s office will absorb a significant cut in funding and the Ohio Supreme Court is exploring several cost-saving strategies.

Families across Ohio have tightened their financial belts during this tough economic time, and not only is it prudent, but I believe it is the responsibility of legislators, the governor and other statewide elected officials to reduce their spending as well.

Moving forward, I will do all I can to monitor state government spending to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.