Friday, March 17, 2000

Senate hurrying on budget

Deadline just 2 weeks away

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — Sen. Jack Westwood and other members of the Senate budget committee plan to work overtime this weekend on the state's two-year spending plan.

        With just two weeks to go in the General Assembly session, Mr. Westwood, an Erlanger Republican, and his Appropriations and Revenue Committee colleagues are preparing to tear into the budget the House passed Wednesday.

        “(Leadership) told me I'm going to be down here Saturday, so I don't expect to be going home,” Mr. Westwood said Thursday from his desk on the Senate floor. “We have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to get it done.”

        The committee will begin dissecting the budget — known in Frankfort parlance as “marking up” — with the hope of voting on it late next week.

        The budget will then go to the full Senate after it is passed out of committee.

        Members of the Republican-controlled Senate have been sending signals that they will remove the telecommunications tax increase included in the House budget. The increase, inserted in the budget at the strong urging of Gov. Paul Patton, would raise about $180 million over the next two years in new revenue.

        Mr. Westwood held off Thursday on making any judgments on the budget, though he has previously said he and other Republicans are not likely to vote for the tax increase.

        “I really don't know what is going to happen until we start looking at the bill,” he said. “We're going to look at what's there and what we can work on. But I really don't have any clue what is going to happen, except that we are going to sit down with members of the other party and get to work.”

        Asked about the tax, Mr. Westwood did not sound optimistic about its passage.

        “I haven't seen a lot of inclination for it yet, but nothing is certain,” he said.

        Republicans as well as Democrats could find them selves in a difficult spot when it comes to voting on the budget and the excise tax increase on telecommunications services such as out-of-state phone calls, and pager and cable and satellite TV services.

        The money raised by the tax would help pay for hundreds of local projects that House members put in the budget. Senators voting against the tax could be portrayed as voting against projects.

        But Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, said his vote for the budget in the House wasn't because it included money for projects — including about $1 million for street repairs, sidewalks and other projects in his Kenton County district.

        “My vote had nothing to do with projects or sidewalks or anything else,” said Mr. Draud, a freshman lawmaker and retired superintendent of Ludlow schools.

        “I was told that without (the tax increase) there would not have been enough money for education,” he said. “That's the reason I voted for the tax. It's flat-out that simple.”


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