By Jim Siegel and Mark Niquette Original Article
Two Republicans joined all House Democrats yesterday in voting to delay Ohioans' income-tax cut, while new data show that state government is operating today with 1,500 fewer employees than just four months ago.
And in the most impassioned speech in an afternoon of debate over how to fill a looming $851 million hole in the two-year state budget, Rep. Matthew Dolan, R-Novelty, urged his colleagues to set aside partisanship and not turn the debate "into a gotcha moment."
"We are nothing more basically than a pass-through entity to counties," said Dolan, who, along with Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, broke with his caucus to support the bill. "When we beat our chest and say we need to cut more state spending, all we're saying to our counties who provide the essential services to our constituents is, 'You find the money somewhere. You go to the taxpayers.'
"All you're doing is putting the burden on property taxes and local sales taxes."
The budget debate now shifts to the Senate, where President Bill M. Harris, R-Ashland, has not said whether he supports the income-tax plan. He plans to start hearings next week.
"Haste has not served our state budget well thus far, and the Senate will take the time it needs to ensure we have done our due diligence," Harris said.
House Republicans call the plan, which delays for two years the 4.2 percent income-tax cut that took effect Jan. 1, a tax increase. "To tell voters we are going into their wallets one more time is criminal," said Rep. Kris Jordan, R-Powell.
Democrats call it a tax freeze. "To delay a tax cut is not a tax increase, no matter how many times you say it," said Rep. Dan Stewart, D-Columbus.
House Republicans continued to argue that rather than postpone the final year of a five-year income-tax cut approved in 2005, the state should consider deeper cuts or a reorganization of state government to save money.
"The governor's budget has done little to curtail spending," said Rep. John Adams, R-Sidney. "No one believes state government has been cut to the bone."
But Dolan, a former Finance Committee chairman, disagreed, noting that general-revenue fund spending has been cut by $3.8 billion. "I defy you anywhere to find a budget that has done that."
Democrats say GOP proposals such as government consolidation would not save money to deal with the current budget problem, created when a plan to add slot machines at horse-racing tracks was scuttled by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Monthly reports produced by the Department of Administrative Services show that the number of state employees declined by 1,500 from June 15, right before the current two-year budget was passed, to Oct. 16, the most recent reporting date.
Some of the recent state job cuts have been temporary workers, or positions not filled when employees retired or left. But nearly half are full-time, permanent positions, the data show.
Those records also show that since March 2007, the first report after Gov. Ted Strickland took office, the state has 4,918 fewer employees -- including nearly 4,100 permanent, full-time positions. Job cuts began to accelerate after the state passed the new two-year budget in July.
That's because many state agencies that rely on state general-revenue-fund dollars already had been cutting supplies and other non-personnel expenses and now have no choice but to eliminate jobs, said Ron Sylvester, a spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services.
"This is getting into bone," he said.
The state prison system, for example, has been hit hard with job cuts at a time when the inmate population is at record-high levels, said Julie Walburn, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The agency is down 189 permanent, full-time positions since June and 1,220 since March 2007.
"We have cut everywhere that we know to cut, and any further cuts will impact our services at our operations," Walburn said.