Strickland says it is time to tighten the belt

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COLUMBUS — Moving to address a projected shortfall that may range between $733 million and $1.9 billion, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has directed state agencies to cut more than $733 million.

Strickland said if conditions worsen, he intends to seek additional funds that may be needed to balance the budget from the state’s $1 billion rainy day fund.

“The budget reductions I’m ordering today represent real sacrifice,” Strickland said.

“There will be job reductions. Some programs will be curtailed or eliminated. Some institutions will be closed. But we will also be able to protect recent tax reforms and investments that I believe are crucial to Ohio’s economic recovery.”

Tuition freeze protected

Specifically, the governor’s budget reduction plan will allow the state to continue tax reform passed by previous legislatures, the newly established homestead tax cut, children’s health care expansions, the tuition freeze for state colleges and universities, and increased funding for local school districts.

Rather than ordering an across-the-board cut, the governor asked his Office of Budget and Management to lead a collaborative process with agencies in which different options were identified. The governor then made his decision based on the advice and information agencies provided him.

Strickland is also limiting all out-of-country travel and all nonessential continental U.S. travel, and is limiting all purchases of new equipment, with the exception of equipment needed for health, safety or other similarly critical state functions.

Department of agriculture

The governor’s plan includes budget reduction targets for the Ohio Department of Agriculture of $275,562 in fiscal year 2008 and $1.6 million in fiscal year 2009.

The largest GRF-supported program at ODA, meat inspection, is exempt from reductions.

Through the plan, the department of agriculture is expected to reorganize, restructure or consolidate operations in order to realize cost savings and operate within reduced appropriation levels.

The potential impact may be a reduction of 17 to 31 positions through attrition, vacancies that will remain unfilled, early retirement incentive plans, and other reductions.

The department is also pursuing several other cost-saving strategies, including: attempts to reduce ODA’s vehicle fleet, an out-of-state travel freeze for all nonessential trips, and thermostats have been turned down by 4 degrees in all buildings at the ODA campus.

Also, equipment purchases have been reduced and ODA has reached out to other state agencies to see what operational consolidation could be done.

ODNR budget

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has been challenged to cut $7.8 million in fiscal year 2008 and $6.9 million in its fiscal year 2009 budget.

Initially, it is expected that DNR will realize cost savings through restructuring measures such as transferring the Scenic Rivers program to the Division of Watercraft, saving more than $500,000. The department is also planning to centralize the fiscal operations of smaller division offices.

Other budget-cutting measures could mean the loss of 85 to 157 positions.

Across the state agencies, more than 2,700 jobs may be cut as part of the governor’s plan.

Under fire

In his budget plan, Strickland announced the Ohio Lottery Commission can expand its menu of games of chance to include Keno and other monitor, or video, games in bars and other age-limited establishments. These machines would be regulated and monitored by the commission.

That is drawing quick blasts from the Republicans, including U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich.

“This is in no way an expansion of the lottery,” Voinovich said. “This would be a foot in the door for full-blown gambling and, once that happens, Katie bar the door.”

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