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OHIO GOP delays budget action



Published: Fri, February 21, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The governor was worried about the correction plan that might be passed.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Action on a bill to plug a $720 million shortfall in the two-year budget was delayed after a majority of Republicans couldn't agree on a proposal.

The Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee met Tuesday, and is to reconvene today with the hopes of eventually forwarding to the full Senate a budget corrections bill, Senate Finance Chairman Bill M. Harris said.

He recessed the panel after several hours of closed-door GOP meetings.

Senate President Doug White believes "that we need to continue to talk about ... options," said Harris, R-Ashland County.

The delay came after White, R-Manchester, came to a mutual understanding with Republican Gov. Bob Taft to slow the proceedings, Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said.

Governor's concerns

"The governor was concerned about the plan that he heard they were going to pass," Holubec said. "We heard rumors, we were concerned."

Holubec said Taft was to be calling members of the Senate overnight to share his concerns.

Before the committee recessing, speculation centered on whether the GOP members of the committee were prepared to pass a budget-correction bill that contained no tax increases and relied more on budget cuts. But GOP committee members disputed that.

"To say that there was consensus on anything would not be accurate," said state Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, a finance committee member.

Earlier in the day, Taft met with GOP senators and made a pitch for more tax revenue to help close the deficit in the two-year, $44 billion budget that ends June 30.

"He repeated his willingness to make the [additional] cuts if necessary and he also signaled a willingness to consider a penny sales tax if there's a trigger involved," Holubec said.

Didn't buy it

But the governor's plea apparently didn't carry any weight with some GOP senators.

"My message to the governor was: 'We need to cut every area of the budget and the cuts wouldn't have to be that deep,'" said state Sen. Lynn R. Wachtmann, R-Napoleon.

Taft had proposed a budget-correction package that relied on budget cuts, the speeding up of the collection of sales taxes, a 45-cent increase in the state cigarette tax and a doubling of the state alcohol tax.

The governor has said that without additional revenue, he would be forced to cut aid to primary and secondary education, higher education, economic development and other programs.

But the House adopted last week a $566 million budget-correction bill that deleted the proposed "sin-tax" increases the governor sought, but instead retained the speeding the collection of the state sales tax to raise $288 million and use $121 million in funds from surplus accounts.

In recent days, Republican senators had also been considering various alternatives including a proposal to institute a temporary, 1-percent increase in the sales tax that would be "triggered" by certain economic conditions.




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