STATE GOVERNMENT House GOP makes new budget proposal

The consolidation of services would be the key under the proposal.
COLUMBUS -- Funding cuts for cities and libraries would remain the same as in Gov. Bob Taft's proposed state budget but could be less severe for counties, townships and villages under a plan developed by majority House Republicans.
Under the House version of the state budget, expected to be unveiled today, cuts in state funding to cities would remain at 20 percent -- the same as Taft had proposed, said state Rep. Larry Flowers, a Columbus-area Republican. State funding cuts to counties would be 20 percent according to the House plan -- the same as in the Republican governor's proposal.
However, counties that file a plan with the state to consolidate some services could instead see a 10-percent reduction, said Flowers, who sits on the House Finance Committee that's been studying Taft's proposed $51.3-billion budget.
Townships and villages, which would take a 10-percent hit in state funds under Taft's proposal, would take only a 5-percent cut under the House plan if they file a services-consolidation plan with the state, Flowers said.
Under the House proposal, public libraries would receive the same reduction in state funds -- 5 percent -- as in Taft's plan, Flowers said.
Flowers said House Republicans want to encourage local governments to look at combining services where possible to save money.
"We're not forcing them to do anything," Flowers said. "We're putting a carrot out there."
Further details on the proposed services-consolidation plans weren't immediately available Thursday.
Mark Rickel, a Taft spokesman, declined comment, saying the governor has yet to review the House Republicans' plan.
House Minority Leader Chris Redfern said House Democrats, who are outnumbered by Republicans 60 to 39, would not support such a plan and will offer budget amendments to restore local-government funding to year 2000 levels.
Advocates for county governments appeared encouraged by the House GOP's plan.
"It's a move in the right direction," said John R. Leutz, a policy analyst with the County Commissioners Association. "Obviously, we appreciate that they understand the significance of local government funding."
Leutz said county government advocates would be studying the plan in the coming days.
Pleased official
John Mahoney, deputy director of the Ohio Municipal League, which represents cities and villages, said he was pleased to see improvement for villages, some of which depend heavily on state funding. But Mahoney remained concerned with the potential 20-percent cut for cities.
"The idea that cities can withstand these cuts better than counties is ridiculous," he said.
Flowers said the budget plan developed by House Republicans also would include a $5-million program in which political subdivisions could seek grants to do studies on how to combine more government services.
In the fiscal year that ends June 30, the state is distributing about $1.2 billion to local governments.
In its two-year budget proposal, the Taft administration proposed to cut about $100 million from the local-government fund for the fiscal year that begins July 1, reducing it to $1.1 billion and $1.05 billion the following fiscal year.
Under Taft's proposal, the reductions would begin Jan. 1.
The House Finance Committee could vote late this week on a new state budget, setting up a vote by the full House. If approved by the House, the spending plan would have to be approved by the state Senate.
The current two-year, $48-billion state budget runs through June 30, and lawmakers must enact the next two-year outlay by July 1.

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