The Ohio House of Representatives has passed a two-year operating budget that slashes funding for the state's universities and colleges by $137 million from the current allocation. The budget also ignores Gov. Bob Taft's attempt to reform the Medicaid program.
And, it contains a temporary 1-cent increase in the state's sales tax. However, the additional tax won't be in place through the biennium if voters in the November election approve the installation of video slot machines at Ohio's horse racing tracks .
The spending plan is now on its way to the Senate, where deliberations are expected to begin in two weeks.
Given the vast differences between the budget proposed by the governor and the House's version -- Taft has threatened to veto the slot machines provision and contends there is an over-reliance on one-time money -- the need for further deliberations is clear. The Senate should be the venue for this Republican budget process.
We emphasize the GOP's involvement because the party controls the legislature and the governor's office and Democrats have been relegated to the sidelines. Their advice that state government should use the current financial crisis to map out a long-term strategy that includes major tax reform has been largely ignored.
Thus, Taft and the leadership in the House and Senate have the responsibility to not only erase the projected $4 billion shortfall in the general fund, but to chart a course that would enable Ohio to ride out the current storm and provide for future economic growth.
That will be a challenge -- as the debate in the House over the past several weeks illustrated.
The lack of a consensus among House Republicans shows that the budget passed last week with the support of several Democrats is still in need of repair.
The cut in funding for higher education remains our primary concern because of the long-term damage that will be done to Ohio's reputation and economic viability.
The governor had asked for a $174 million increase from the current funding level for the universities and colleges, but the House slashed the Board of Regents' allocation by $137 million from what it received in the past two fiscal years.
It is a dangerous and short-sighted decision. It will force institutions to increase student tuition again and to cut programs.
Ohio already ranks near the bottom in state funding for higher education, and the budget passed by the House will push the state further down the list. That is unacceptable because it not only sends the wrong message to the nation but calls into question state government's commitment to making Ohio a leader in high technology initiatives and an active participant in the global economy.
Taft should not back down from his higher education funding request, and neither should he give up on reforming Medicaid.
The Senate, which is supposed to be the more deliberative body, has the responsibility to view the budget in the context of Ohio's future.
In that regard, we believe the Republican leadership should invite Democrats to the table and encourage them to actively participate in the deliberations.