Federal relief helps ease state budget cuts

Christina Stavale

As he asked Ohioans to accept the sacrifices that come with a recession, Gov. Ted Strickland assured the public yesterday that “the state of our state is steadfast.”

He’ll announce his proposed state budget next week, but reminded Ohioans that if he keeps agencies at their previous budget levels, the state will be in a $7.3 billion deficit. That means budget cuts will have to come, but Strickland promised that the budget he presents will be balanced, and he will not raise taxes on Ohioans.

And the deficit will be lessened by $3.4 billion in money from the federal government designed for state relief.

“Without the infusion of federal resources, we would have had to impose far more substantial cuts to balance our budget,” Strickland said.

Kathleen Chandler, state representative for the 68th House District (Portage County), agreed that the federal money will make it a little easier to meet the challenges of the budget deficit.

“I’m really quite pleased,” she said. “In light of all the demands from the federal government now, I’m very pleased that we got as much as we did.”

Chandler added that Strickland has said in the past that he will cut from the administrative level for the cuts that are necessary.

“Because the economy is so poor right now, there’s greater demand from the public for certain services,” she said, citing unemployment compensation and food stamps as programs that the government cannot afford to cut in this time.

In addition to the budget, Strickland also discussed his plans for expanding health care coverage, creating jobs, transportation projects and an eight-year education reform plan in his third annual State of the State address.

He proposed several job creation incentives, including a Technology Investment Tax Credit to attract new Ohio start-up technology companies, a Film Tax Credit that would spur the film industry’s growth and creativity in Ohio and broadening the Job Retention Tax Credit and Job Creation Tax Credit so more businesses can benefit from creating jobs in Ohio.

In addition, he proposed a second job stimulus package to be introduced throughout the coming months.

Chandler said that with this stimulus package, she expects jobs in infrastructure, bioscience and transportation will be created in Portage County.

Strickland also announced plans to create a passenger railroad that would connect Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Chandler said besides convenience, this too would create jobs for Ohioans.

Strickland also announced plans to expand health care coverage.

“We have finally gained federal approval to offer coverage to Ohio children from families with incomes up to 300 percent of the poverty line,” he said. “With funding provided in this budget, we will soon be able to say that health care coverage is available to every child in Ohio.”

He also explained the following “innovative” steps to expand health care for adults, thus bringing more than 110,000 adults under coverage:

•Those with employer-provided insurance could buy coverage for dependents up to the age of 29.

• Small business employees who lose their jobs could purchase continuation coverage for up to 12 months.

• Reforms to the open enrollment program would provide more affordable options for those with pre-existing health conditions.

• More uninsured workers could purchase coverage with pre-tax dollars.

Chandler said that overall, she was pleased with the governor’s address and its implications for Portage County.

“I’m very pleased with the presentation today,” she said, “and I’m looking forward to examining the budget carefully.”

Contact public affairs reporter Christina Stavale at [email protected].