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Discussion over budget at standstill

I would like to once again use my column this week to provide an update on the status of House Bill 318, Gov. Strickland’s proposal to postpone a 4.2 percent income tax cut to repair an $851 million hole in the state’s two-year budget for primary and secondary education.

The problem was caused by the failure of the governor’s plan to place slot machines at horse race tracks.

I have said publicly that I am willing to support the budget fix and want it to move forward to ensure stable funding for our local schools.

And, Senate Republicans have agreed to provide enough votes to pass the tax cut delay if the bill also includes a provision to revise Ohio’s antiquated public construction laws, as well as other common sense reforms that have been estimated to save the state billions of dollars over the next decade.

However, the Governor has been unwilling to support these reasonable ideas.

Ironically, construction reform is the Governor’s own initiative. Last year, the Governor and Ohio Department of Administrative Services Director, Hugh Quill, convened a diverse panel of business leaders, labor unions, contractors, legislators and other state officials to study possible changes to the rules and processes for public construction projects in the state. After many hours of hard work listening to different viewpoints and discussing the issue, the group reached consensus on several recommendations.

During hearings in the Senate Finance & Financial Institutions Committee this past week, Ohio State University President, Gordon Gee, called that the state’s current public construction laws “cumbersome.”

He said that proposed reforms would streamline the process, saving the state millions of dollars, while encouraging long-term job growth by facilitating new construction projects. In addition, Eric Fingerhut, Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, and Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council, which represents leaders of Ohio’s four-year colleges and universities, voiced support for construction reform.

The Governor deserves credit for getting us this far, but there are still special interest groups that want to hijack this progress and tailor construction laws to fit their best interests. Many believe that if the Legislature doesn’t act now to include construction reform as part of the budget fix, it may not happen at all.

Senate Republicans also want to delay implementation of the Governor’s mandate that all school districts offer all-day kindergarten beginning next academic year. The Ohio Department of Education recently estimated that the requirement could cost Ohio schools at least $205 million over the next two years.

The Governor’s education plan does not provide this money and many school leaders have said they cannot afford to pay it on their own.

However, I am already starting to get emails from education interest groups who have been given marching orders to do the Governor’s bidding.

The legislative process is all about compromise. I am willing to support the Governor’s budget solution, but unless he makes an effort to compromise on some of the long-term budget proposals that are important to Senate Republicans—items that the Governor has supported in the past—there will not be enough votes to pass HB 318.

I am hopeful that talks will continue between the Governor and the Legislature, so we can come to a conclusion on this debate.

I believe the best resolution for the future success of our state would include the Governor’s budget fix to ensure stable funding for our schools now, as well as long-term cost-saving measures, such as construction reform, that will help reduce state government spending, avoid future budget deficits and prevent huge tax increases on Ohioans in the coming years.

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.