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Ohio capital budget in jeopardy

The state’s capital budget, which provides money for numerous projects, is in jeopardy of not being approved this year.

The $2.6 billion biennial capital budget was expected to be introduced in March, with about $150 million in it for community projects, and passed well before now.

But the COVID-19 pandemic occurred bringing the spending package discussions to a halt and putting its future in danger.

“There’s a small possibility of it occurring later this year,” said state Rep. Michael J. O’Brien, D-Warren, a member of the House Finance Committee. “If one happens, I’m sure it will be scaled back. It’s going to affect us locally.”

The Mahoning Valley for years hasn’t received its fair share of the capital budget money with Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati getting a disproportionate amount, while smaller areas fight for table scraps.

Most of the area’s funding goes to Youngstown State University, which has taken a hit — like many other places — because of the pandemic.

When asked in late March about the capital budget, Gov. Mike DeWine didn’t sound encouraging.

“Our focus is to cut back on the spending,” he said, and some programs “are going to have to unfortunately take a hit.”

Then on May 5, DeWine announced $775 million in cuts — almost all to K-12 and higher education, and Medicaid spending — to balance the state budget through June 30.

DeWine also said he wouldn’t use any of the state’s $2.7 billion rainy day fund for now because the surplus is going to be needed to make up anticipated shortfalls in the next budget year, which begins July 1, and even the following one.

The capital budget uses primarily bond money, but with the state in a financial crisis, those who were hoping to get funding for their projects are likely to be disappointed.

The state Legislature is expected to pass a reappropriations bill before session ends June 30 for money approved in the capital budget two years ago that hasn’t been spent, O’Brien said.

The House and the Senate though differ on what that bill will look like.

Two years ago, the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna received a $250,000 appropriation for a project that didn’t occur and was seeking this year a reallocation of that money to buy property needed for the relocation of two gates at the base. It’s uncertain if that project will be included in a reappropriations bill.

Among the area’s top requests in this year’s capital budget were:

• $1.5 million for the former Youngstown Development Center, now called the Campus of Care and located in Austintown, near the Weathersfield border. The facility will offer services from county and nonprofit agencies to seniors, youth, veterans and those with mental, physical and development disabilities.

• $1,089,000 for Phase 3 of the Community Literacy Workforce and Cultural Center project in Campbell, that received $300,000 in the last capital budget.

• $500,000 for a multijurisdictional opioid education and workforce development training and meeting center in Weathersfield, that received $150,000 in the last capital budget.

• $400,000 for renovations to the Warren Community Amphitheatre.

• $1 million for the Stambaugh Auditorium improvement project in Youngstown. The project, to cost about $5 million with $2 million already raised, will raze and replace the Fifth Avenue staircase and promenade as well as make numerous other improvements.

• $818,000 for the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center’s fire education program in Canfield. The money was for Phase 2 of the project that provides job training and workforce development for firefighters and students.

There are many, many other worthwhile projects that were submitted to state legislators from the Mahoning Valley.

A large majority of the requests fail to get funding in the capital budget every two years.

Now it looks like there’s a strong chance none of them will get money.

Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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