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OHIO BUDGET Taft fights provision on facility closings



Published: Sun, February 16, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



A panel would be formed every time a facility closing is announced.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Gov. Bob Taft is trying to strip from a bill to plug a $720 million shortfall in the current state budget a provision that would prevent him from closing state institutions unless a special commission recommends it.

A Taft budget aide told the Senate Finance Committee on Friday that the provision, inserted by state lawmakers to derail the targeted closures of the Apple Creek and Springview developmental centers, would hinder the governor's ability to administer government.

"We would like that provision removed," Assistant State Budget Director Tim Keen said in an interview. "We believe it inappropriately interferes with our management, our ability to manage state government."

The Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities proposes to shutter Apple Creek in Wayne County and Springview in Clark County as part of the Republican Taft's two-year, $49.1 billion executive state budget pending before the Legislature.

The next state budget must be in place by July 1, but under the governor's proposed budget, Springview wouldn't close until June 30, 2005. Apple Creek wouldn't be shuttered until a year later.

Commission provision

In response, House Republicans added a provision to a bill to fill a shortfall in the current two-year budget that would prevent state institution closings without a special commission study.

Under the provision in the House-passed bill, an 11-member commission would be set up every time the governor orders a state institution closed.

The commission would have to conduct a study and make a recommendation to the governor. The governor would be bound to follow the commission's recommendation, according to the provision.

State Rep. Keith Faber, a Celina Republican and one of the authors of the provision, has said the procedure would apply to any state facility that hasn't yet ceased operations.

As part of Taft's new budget proposal, state officials have announced they will seek to close the Lima Correctional Institution, a state prison in northwest Ohio, by July 1.

In addition, the Department of Youth Services has announced it plans to consolidate its girls Riverview Juvenile Correctional Facility in Delaware County with the nearby Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility, a facility for boys, also in Delaware County.

DYS spokeswoman Ann Liotta said there was no time line yet on the proposed consolidation.

Support from advocates

While the Taft administration lobbied to kill the facilities-closing commission provision, advocates for the mentally retarded lobbied to save it.

Al Leist of Wooster, the advocacy coordinator for The Ohio League For The Mentally Retarded, said he supports the creation of the facilities-closing commission.

Leist's organization represents the 1,900 residents of Ohio's 12 developmental centers.

"Literally, every aspect of a community's economic and social welfare is jeopardized when a major employer of any kind closes their doors and moves out of town," said Leist, who also has a 40-year-old son who lives at Apple Creek.

The Senate finance panel plans a vote Tuesday on the budget-correction bill with a vote by the full Senate scheduled for Wednesday.




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