Taft Announces New Round Of Budget Cuts

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Gov. Bob Taft on Monday announced a new round of budget cuts totaling $375 million triggered by the beginning of the fiscal year.

The anticipated cuts are the result of two previous attempts to balance the state's two-year budget.

Taft (pictured, above) said most state agencies had now received a 15 percent reduction in state funding because of cuts announced Monday and during the last fiscal year, which ended Sunday.

"In these tough times resulting from a slowing economy and reduced tax revenues, we have to tighten our belts," Taft said in a statement.

The cuts included $40 million to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which earlier this year closed Orient Correctional Institution south of Columbus to comply with a previous budget cut.

The cuts also include a $122 million reduction for Ohio's public colleges and universities approved in October.

Other cuts include $11.7 million to the Department of Natural Resources. No parks will be closed, but some might see reduced access in the off season -- fewer campgrounds available during the winter, for example, said DNR spokesman Jim Lynch.

Democrats criticized the cuts to higher education, saying they are leading to higher tuition.

"Skyrocketing tuition could close off access to public colleges and universities for thousands of our students," said Rep. Dean DePiero of Parma, the top-ranking House Democrat.

The cuts also include $30 million to the Department of Education in programs that don't provide direct student aid, such as purchasing buses, alternative education programs or professional development, said Paul Marshall, a department lobbyist.

Taft's volunteer reading program, OhioReads, was spared cuts.

The program, which places volunteer tutors in Ohio classrooms and purchases reading materials, has received about $120 million to date.

The Department of Mental Health received a 1.5 percent cut, or about $7.6 million. The brunt of that will be felt by community boards that provide local mental health services, said department spokesman Sam Hibbs.

The state ended the fiscal year Sunday with a $100 million balance, after lower than expected revenue forced lawmakers to twice fill billion-dollar budget deficits.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)