A House-Senate conference committee will soon meet to iron out differences in their budget-balancing proposals, but that will be an exercise in futility. By refusing to embrace any revenue-enhancement solution, such as a temporary 1 percent increase in the sales tax or new taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, the Republican dominated General Assembly has shown that is it not serious about eliminating a $720 million in the state's operating budget that runs to June 30.
The Republican legislative leaders claim that they can plug the budget hole by accelerating the collection of sales taxes, tapping surplus and other funds and imposing spending cuts.
Republican Gov. Bob Taft says the plan developed by the General Assembly isn't realistic and can't work. Case in point: Legislators have argued that the Department of Education is top heavy with administrators and, therefore, its budget should be slashed. But, the lawmakers quickly add, basic state aid to public schools should not be touched.
As the governor correctly points out, even if administrative spending were eliminated, there still wouldn't be enough money to wipe out the deficit.
Taft has made concessions in an effort to break the impasse between his administration and the General Assembly over the issue of the budget. At first, he wanted taxes on cigarettes and alcohol increased, in conjunction with other revenue producing initiatives and some budget cuts, but after GOP leaders in the House and Senate balked, he proposed a temporary 1 percent sales tax increase.
But Republican lawmakers remain adamantly opposed to any tax increase and that has put prompted a stern warning from the governor: $162 million in cuts to public schools, higher education funding, elderly assistance and job creation programs are coming.
At a time when many schools districts are in financial trouble and with Ohio's public universities and colleges all having to raise tuition because of previous cuts in state funding, further reductions will be devastating.
While Republican legislators might think that they're currying favor with the electorate by refusing to impose a temporary 1 percent sales tax, they are, in fact, playing with fire. Once the cuts that the governor says will be necessary are in full effect, school districts will be forced to seek property tax increases or reduce spending by laying off teachers and cutting programs.
Universities and colleges will also have to bite the bullet, which could ultimately affect the quality of instruction. As it is, students are being forced to pay higher tuition as a result of past budget cuts.
It's time for Republican leaders in the House and Senate to end their political games and do the right thing. The General Assembly should impose the temporary 1 percent sales tax increase.