Collegial budget process shouldn't ignore reality
Comparisons are being made between the ease with which the state's biennium's budget is passing through the General Assembly this year and the bloodletting that occurred in 2003 involving Republican Gov. Bob Taft and then-Speaker Larry Householder and then-Senate President Doug White, both Republicans.
Taft, who will be leaving office at the end of 2006, is obviously pleased that his office and the new leaders of the House and Senate have forged a strong working relationship. After all, the $51 billion two-year spending plan adopted by the GOP-dominated House was largely what the governor had proposed, and it's a sure bet that the Republican-controlled Senate will follow suit.
Taft, Speaker Jon Husted and Senate President Bill Harris began communicating early about the main ingredients of the budget, including a tax reduction package of more than $800 million, so that when the spending plan reached the Legislature there were no surprises.
But there is a danger to such collegiality: Tough questions about specific provisions in the budget don't get answered -- especially if they are asked by Democrats, whose minority status have made them spectators in the budget process.
Thus, when the budget reflects cuts in the Local Government Fund -- 20 percent for cities and counties, 10 percent for townships and villages and 5 percent for libraries -- the ramifications of such action deserve to be addressed by someone in leadership.
How are local communities expected to make up the lost revenue, which goes for such crucial services as law enforcement? How are libraries supposed to meet the ever-growing needs of county residents when state government fails to adequately support them?
Police protection isn't a luxury item. And giving young people access to knowledge, either through books, tapes, educational programs or the World Wide Web isn't pampering. Yet, Republicans in the General Assembly are committed to enacting a biennium budget that contains cuts in the Local Government Fund.
But it isn't only the state that seems determined to balance the budget on the backs of local governments. If Republican President Bush has his way, the Community Development Block Grant program, which has been the lifeblood of cities like Youngstown, will cease to exist.
Bush administration officials insist that transferring the CDBG program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Commerce Department will not result in major changes. However, long-time watchers of the federal government contend that Commerce will be unable to continue funding the CDBG program at its current level. That means recipients such as Youngstown, which has a large number of low- and moderate-income residents, could be hard hit.
Unless Republicans want to be accused of turning their backs on urban America, which traditionally has voted Democratic, the White House and Republican leaders in Columbus would do well to explain how local governments are to absorb the budget cuts.