OHIO BUDGET Groups say options won't fix schools
Lobbyists' reactions to the proposals vary widely.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Some education groups say they believe options in the House-passed version of the new two-year, $51.3 billion state budget that give public schools more ways to generate local revenue will be helpful for school districts.
But they say they are not the cure for the state's long-standing school-funding problems.
"This does not fix our school-funding system," said Barbara Shaner, legislative services director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, which represents school district treasurers and business managers.
"Those are just more arrows in the quiver," said Fredrick Pausch, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, which represents school boards around the state.
Shaner and Pausch are talking about provisions in the proposed state budget passed by the Ohio House on Tuesday that would allow school systems to levy additional voter-approved property taxes that could grow with inflation.
According to a legislative analysis of the budget bill, the annual growth rate would be capped at 4 percent.
The maximum number of growing mills would be 8, the analysis said, and the growing mills cannot last more than seven years.
The proposed state spending plan also would reauthorize cities and villages to be able to levy income taxes to be shared with school districts.
"It's another tool in the toolbox for districts to use," the OSBA's Pausch said of the options.
Shaner said her group isn't sure whether the provision allowing the property-tax levies to grow will meet state constitutional muster and that court challenges could arise.
Bill Phillis, the leader of a coalition of school districts that successfully sued the state over the constitutionality of its school funding method, said the growing levy provisions, if enacted, would move the state in the wrong direction.
"The idea of giving local property taxpayers those additional ways of getting local money, that's just the opposite of what the [Ohio Supreme Court] ordered, which was less emphasis on property taxes," said Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding.
Four times, the state high court has declared unconstitutional the state's method of paying for public schools. The high court has said that an over-reliance on property taxes has led to inequities.
In the Senate's hands
As the proposed two-year state budget moves to the GOP-led Senate, Pausch said school groups will continue to raise questions about how schools will make up revenue by a proposed phaseout of the tangible personal property taxes.
The House-passed budget contains Republican Gov. Bob Taft's proposal to phase out the tangible personal property taxes on business machinery, equipment and inventory. House Republicans also extended the phaseout to furniture and fixtures as well in the budget the House passed.
School districts receive more than 70 percent of the revenue generated by tangible personal property taxes, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation.
Pausch said education advocates will be seeking a permanent replacement of tangible personal property tax revenue for schools.
The current, two-year, $48 billion state budget runs through June 30. Under state law, lawmakers must enact the next state budget by July 1.