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Ohio Senate budget plan gives more to higher ed


John McCarthy
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate on Tuesday outlined its state budget proposal for the next two years, including plans to freeze college tuition in both years and add $300 million to the House proposal for a total spending plan of $53.4 billion.
The Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to accept the slightly modified version of the House budget and hopes to have it ready for a vote by the full Senate next week, committee Chairman Sen. John Carey said.
The Senate version adds    $118 million to the House version for subsidies for state universities and community colleges. Overall, the Senate adds $161 million to the House plan for higher education for the two-year budget period beginning July 1.
The money became available after legislative staff reviewed an estimate by the governor’s office of Medicaid caseloads over the next two years and found them to be lighter than the administration believed, said Brian Perera, finance director for the Senate Republicans. Other money was reshuffled from the 2008 budget year to 2009, he said.
Gov. Ted Strickland had asked the Legislature for a tuition freeze in the budget’s first year, and a 3 percent cap on increases in the second. The House reversed the order in its plan.
The Senate version also adds special supplements of more than $1 million for Central State University, the state’s predominantly black public college, and $965,000 for Shawnee State University, which serves students in Appalachia.
The Senate also kept intact Strickland proposals to lift the ceiling of eligibility for families with children without health insurance to 300 percent of the of federal poverty level — about $61,000 for a family of four. However, the Senate did not expand a program for insuring low-income adults from 90 percent of the poverty level to 100 percent, which was proposed by Strickland and struck by the House.
The Ohio Family Coverage Coalition said it would keep fighting to restore the adult insurance when the bill reaches a joint committee of the House and Senate that will have to resolve differences between the two versions.
Gayle Channing Tenenbaum, a leading children’s advocate, said she was pleased overall with the Senate’s version, in which money for education does not gobble up other programs.
“The pitting of education against health and human services hasn’t occurred in this budget,” said Tenenbaum, legislative director for the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.
Sen. Dale Miller of Cleveland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the budget has Democrats’ support, just as in the House where that version passed without opposition.
“This version reflects a number of revisions we were concerned about,” Miller said.
The Senate also restored funding for debt service for bonds issued by the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio School Facilities Commission and other agencies that undertake large construction projects. The Senate said it wanted to protect the state’s bond rating.
The Senate slightly cut spending levels from the House version for two agencies: the Department of Job and Family Services (0.12 percent less), and the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (0.36 percent less).
Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said the governor was “encouraged” by the Senate’s version.
“The governor’s core priorities appear to have support,” Dailey said.
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