TRUMBULL, MAHONING County officials, lawmakers meet

The local officials blame state Republicans for the budget mess.
& lt;a & gt;By DAVID SKOLNICK & lt;/a & gt;
YOUNGSTOWN -- The news wasn't particularly good, but what officials in Mahoning and Trumbull counties heard from their state legislators about state budget cuts to local municipalities came as no surprise.
County commissioners from the two counties met Monday with five state legislators to hear about state budget cuts and how they will impact county finances.
A 2.5-percent cut to the local government fund -- money generated by various state taxes with a percentage distributed to Ohio's 88 counties -- through June 30 is on the governor's desk awaiting his signature after being passed by the state Legislature, said state Rep. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-61st.
That will mean a loss of about $300,000 to Mahoning County, which gets $12 million annually from the fund, and about $263,000 to Trumbull County, which gets about $10.5 million annually from the fund. Statewide, $30 million in LGF is being cut to help offset a $720 million state budget deficit.
Gov. Bob Taft is proposing a 2-percent increase in the local government fund from the pre-cut allocations for counties next year. But officials in both counties say the state is taking other money away that will more than make up for that modest increase.
Blaming Republicans
A common theme throughout the meeting of the officials, who are all Democrats, is that Republicans are responsible for the state's financial problems.
"There has been 12 years of neglect by Republicans," said state Sen. Marc Dann of Liberty, D-32nd. "All these decisions are made in back rooms among the Republican caucus."
Local officials are the ones who have to pick up the pieces, said Trumbull Commissioner Joseph Angelo.
"They keep shifting the burden to the local politicians," he said. "The Republicans are in power, and they are cutting up the pie."
The legislators say either expanding the 5-percent state sales tax to other services or a temporary 1-percent across-the-board sales tax increase is likely because the state is facing a $4 billion deficit in its upcoming two-year budget.
Between the two, the commissioners favor expanding the sales tax to other services because they can add their county sales tax to those services and raise revenue. But the state legislators say Republican legislators prefer the temporary 1-percent sales tax increase.
Gambling option
The other option, Boccieri said, is legalized gambling including video lottery terminals and an expansion of the state's off-track betting system.
"The moral dilemma of the [Republican] majority is they signed a pledge not to raise taxes," Boccieri said. "But we're going to be $4 billion in the red. You either raise taxes or find additional revenue sources. Pick your poison -- either you're against a tax increase or you're against gambling."
The local leaders also discussed the impact of continued funding cuts on local welfare programs, and asked for help from the state delegation in resolving an ongoing dispute with the Ohio Department of Transportation over a proposed emergency access road to be included with the Interstate 80 causeway project over Meander Reservoir.
The group decided to meet again in about a month, most likely in Trumbull County.
Columbiana County commissioners were invited to the meeting and were expected to attend. None showed up.
"We had a legislative meeting a month ago in Carroll County that went over the same ground," said Columbiana Commissioner Gary Williams. "That's why we weren't there."
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