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By DAVID SKOLNICK



Published: Thu, November 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

POLAND -- Gov. Bob Taft said he was disappointed at the tack taken by his fellow Republicans in the Ohio Senate to close the state's projected $1.5 billion shortfall during the next two years.

Saying he was troubled by the state Senate's decision-making on the budget, Taft said Wednesday that if that body's plan was enacted it would jeopardize essential state services and he could not support it.

"I've made it very clear what I will approve and what I would not approve," Taft said. "I hope it wouldn't get to a veto. I hope we can work it through."

Differences: Taft's plan calls for spending in most state agencies to be cut by 6 percent in the next two budget years compared to the Senate's proposal of an 8 percent cut.

Also, Taft wants to close some tax loopholes to save $110 million next year, while the Senate has not shown a willingness to approve any of those proposals.

Taft wants to use $279 million from the state's Budget Stabilization Fund, known as the rainy-day fund, during the next two years, while the Senate wants to use $180 million from it. Taft wants to use $100 million from the state's tobacco settlement, while the Senate wants to use $309 million from it.

Lottery: The only agreement between Taft and the Senate is a plan to raise $41 million in 2003 by joining a multistate lottery game.

"With the 6 percent cut I just imposed on our state departments, we can't afford to go deeper without jeopardizing essential state services," Taft said.

The Senate is expected to vote on its plan today. The House is expected to reject the plan and send it to joint conference committee, Taft said.

"We'll be continuing to talk, discuss and negotiate with the House and Senate to reach a decision," he said. "We'd like to see a budget bill by early December."

Taft, a Republican, said his dispute with the Republican-controlled Senate does not indicate a rift between him and others in the party.

"I'm saying we come from different viewpoints," he said. "Our departments are trying to protect the people of Ohio. I'm concerned if we cut too deeply into our budget, we'll not be able to maintain essential state services."

Criticism: Taft first criticized freshmen state legislators in his party during an interview three weeks ago with The Vindicator, saying that the lawmakers are reluctant to face reality about the state's budgetary crisis.

Copies of those comments were distributed by state legislators the day the article was published, further polarizing an unsteady relationship that Taft, who is up for re-election next year, has had with Republican legislators in recent months.

Senate President Richard Finan told the Associated Press on Wednesday that state senators are "the ones that have guts. We're the ones that are standing up for taxpayers."

Taft was in the Mahoning Valley to attend a preview party for the new Poland library and to attend a fund-raiser at Mr. Anthony's in Boardman in his honor. Tickets went for $125 and $250, and about 75 people attended.

skolnick@vindy.com




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