Governor threatens funding veto

By John McCarthy Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS _ Republican Gov. George Voinovich said he would veto any part of Ohio's new school-funding plan that was not paid for after the next school year.

The Senate's top Democrat agreed with Voinovich and added that the governor also should look at two accountability laws that took effect last year. Those laws have no funding beyond June 30, 1999, either.

"He has to take a close look at that and see if they're funded, if he's responsible," said Senate Minority Leader Ben Espy, D-Columbus.

Voinovich's threat came Thursday, one day after the Legislature decided not to ask voters to raise the state sales tax by a penny per dollar _ from 5 percent to 6 percent _ as part of a change in the Ohio Constitution. The deadline for putting constitutional issues on the May 5 primary ballot was Wednesday.

Lawmakers may consider a similar bill that would ask voters to raise the sales tax without changing the constitution, which would give legislators a couple of more weeks to work on the plan.

The failed constitutional amendment would have needed 60 votes, or a three-fifths majority in the 99-member House. The final vote was 58 in favor and 40 opposed. The new bill would require a simple majority for passage.

The Legislature on Sunday also passed House Bill 650, which implements the funding changes that the tax increase was intended to pay for.

Voinovich said in a news release that he "intends to veto sections of House Bill 650 that are unfunded beyond FY (fiscal year) 1999."

If the state implemented the plan without the money, cuts to other agencies could average 3.5 percent, if the economy stays healthy, the release said. If a recession occurs in 2000, as some economists predict, cuts could reach 25 percent in the budget year beginning July 1, 1999, the release said.

The state's economic analysts and lawyers were studying the bill to determine what won't be funded beyond June 30, 1999, when the current budget period ends.

The current budget has money to pay for new programs in the bill that lawmakers passed Sunday, including all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes in poor school districts. The failed tax increase would have paid for them beyond the current budget.

Mike Dawson, the governor's press secretary, would not say which items Voinovich might veto, including increases in the state's per-pupil spending. The state currently guarantees per-pupil spending of $3,663; the new plan would raise that figure to $3,851 next school year, the only year for which money is in place, and to $4,414 in four years.

Dawson also declined to say whether Voinovich would sign the new version of the bill, which the Legislature will begin debating next week.

"We're having some preliminary discussions with the Legislature about that and I'm not willing to comment on that at this point," Dawson said.

Meanwhile, Espy suggested that Voinovich, in addition to vetoing the unfunded changes, also take a look at two school and student accountability bills. He urged Voinovich to seek a repeal of any unfunded programs.

Dawson played down the costs of those programs, which include more credits needed for graduation and money for charter school programs.

"Either one of those bills has nowhere near the financial consequences of (House Bill) 650. It's comparing apples to buildings," Dawson said.

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