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Taft: Cutbacks were the only option left



Published: Sat, March 8, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



YSU is implementing a hiring freeze in response to its $1 million cut.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Gov. Bob Taft imposed millions of dollars in cuts on education, saying his hand was forced by a Republican Legislature unwilling to consider new revenue to balance the budget.

"I take no pleasure in making these painful budget reductions," the governor said Wednesday. "But the Legislature has given me no other option. I have a constitutional duty to balance the state's budget."

Taft slashed $142.5 million from the current two-year, $44 billion state budget that runs through June 30.

That includes a $90.6 million cut to state aid to public schools -- equal to a 1.6 percent reduction -- and a $39.2 million cut to the state subsidy for public colleges and universities, which amounts to a 2.5 percent reduction.

In Mahoning County, the education cuts mean the Youngstown City Schools will lose $580,745 by the end of June, say figures from the Ohio Department of Education.

The Warren City Schools in Trumbull County are to lose $342,463 because of the cuts; the East Liverpool City Schools in Columbiana County are to lose $158,113, the state said.

YSU response

Meanwhile, Youngstown State University will see a $1.07 million cut to its state subsidy, the state said. That is the third reduction in state funding for YSU since the start of the fiscal year eight months ago.

YSU President Dr. David Sweet, in a press release, said the university will institute a schoolwide hiring freeze, place stringent limits on purchases, and cut back on everything from copying to telephone services.

Any purchases above $1,000 will require the written approval of a vice president or other unit head, Sweet added.

Kent State University and the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine will see hits of $2.19 million and $285,918, respectively, to their subsidies.

Taft said the cuts were necessary to help close a $162 million deficit that remained after the Legislature recently approved a $558 million budget-correction package.

Critical of choices

State Sen. Robert F. Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, said the school cuts will have a big impact on less-wealthy school districts.

"What really depresses me is, [Taft] is picking districts that can least afford cuts," Hagan added.

The Taft administration said the budget-correction bill didn't go far enough to erase a projected $720 million shortfall in the current fiscal year.

Taft will use $20 million in excess food-stamp administration funds to make up the remaining shortfall, administration officials say.

Taft also announced $9.3 million in cuts to administrative areas at the Ohio Department of Education; $1.8 million in cuts to the PASSPORT program that helps senior citizens remain in their homes longer; and $1.6 million in economic development and alcohol and drug treatment programs.

State Rep. Sylvester Patton, a Youngstown Democrat, said the cuts "are going to have a huge impact on urban education."

Patton criticized the governor, saying he didn't look for any cuts other than on schools, higher education and other services.

Countering the cuts

"What we're doing is taking a bad situation and making it worse," said state Sen. Marc Dann, a Liberty Township Democrat.

Dann said he's introduced a bill that would void Taft's education cuts. Dann said he's talked to Republican lawmakers about gaining their support as well.

House Republicans say there were alternatives to cutting schools and that the governor could have waited until April to see how the state's tax revenues were faring.

Taft had proposed to increase the state's cigarette tax by 45 cents and to double the state alcohol tax to help erase the budget deficit.

Lawmakers rejected that proposal.




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