Proposal won't hit spending limits
A series of forums will be held to gather ideas for balancing the budget.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Gov. Ted Strickland appealed to state employees, social welfare advocates and other Ohioans on Thursday to help him make the tough choices necessary to balance the next state budget.
Strickland said growth in tax revenues will not meet expectations, leaving budget planners with between 1 billion and 1.5 billion less than projected to spend on government programs.
"The conclusions that we have reached are these: There won't be a lot of money, and so we need to find tradeoffs and we need to establish priorities about what is most important."
He said he will hold a series of forums around the state in the next several weeks to gather citizens' ideas for balancing the budget.
The Democratic governor, with his budget and tax directors at his side, said revenue will grow only 1.4 percent in the fiscal year that begins in July and less than 1 percent the year after, lagging inflation both years. Former Gov. Bob Taft anticipated growth of 3 percent in the next fiscal year, Strickland said, but the new governor's staff has revised that downward based on the latest economic forecast and fiscal changes enacted in the lame duck legislative session.
Strickland called the situation he has inherited "much less optimistic than my predecessor expected it to be."
As a result, Budget Director Pari Sabety has instructed state agencies to trim their spending wish lists by varying amounts depending on the administration's policy priorities.
Within the spending cap
Strickland said his budget proposal will, by necessity, stay well within a new state spending cap of 3.5 percent spending growth per year, and will not contain tax and fee increases or a radical rewrite of recently enacted tax changes.
"We need to focus on cost savings, streamlining government, removing burdensome rules and regulations, and we need to stress accountability and efficiency," he said.
GOP House Speaker Jon Husted's chief of staff, Scott Borgemenke, predicted Republicans would have no problem with a budget that constrains spending and avoids raising taxes -- but perhaps Strickland's fellow Democrats will.
"He'd get a standing ovation in the House with that kind of budget," Borgemenke said. "Now, he only gets it from the Republican side of the aisle. This is a very interesting dynamic."
Borgemenke interpreted the new governor's announcement -- billed by the administration as fostering government transparency -- as sending a clear signal to those who expect him to spend big on education, health care and social programs.
"Every year I've been in government, the agencies ask for more money than they get. This is not news," he said. "Any time government takes in more money than it did in the previous year, you can't call that a deficit. The governor is sending a message to the people I'll call 'the spenders' who think he's going to spend money on their stuff."
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, said picking which programs to save and which to cut will be difficult again this year -- as has been the case in Ohio's recent budgets.
"These are going to be challenging times. It will take all of us working together to identify what are the most critical needs," she said. "It's hard to move a hungry schoolkid ahead of retraining a worker or helping the poor, sick and afflicted."
In an interview, Strickland said lawmakers have the option of removing the spending limits from law if they choose -- but there will be little need this year.
"Quite frankly, I don't think there's much danger in exceeding the TEL," Strickland said. "This year's budget is going to make Mr. Blackwell look like a big spender."
Republican Ken Blackwell, Strickland's opponent in the gubernatorial election, proposed a constitutional amendment restricting annual growth to 3.5 percent or the combined rates of inflation and population growth, whichever is higher. The measure was replaced with a version placed in state law, rather than in the Ohio Constitution.