Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Panel hammers at bill


House to discuss school construction

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Lawmakers spent Monday preparing for the Legislature's final week before summer recess, with estate tax cuts and help for school construction topping the list in the House.

        The Finance and Appropriations Committee held a hearing Monday night to consider those two issues and other bills. The committee hoped to move the legislation to the full House today with floor votes planned on Wednesday. The Senate, after considerable debate, passed both bills last week.

        Committee Chairman Robert Corbin, a Dayton Republican, cautioned the members that they should be prepared to vote today: “I don't want to delay ... one more minute than I have to.” he said.

        The committee also heard testimony on bills that would keep intact the structure of the State Board of Education and provide pay increases for elected county officials, such as auditors, treasurers and engineers.

        Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Taft renewed his request for the Legislature to free up $100 million from the projected year-end surplus. That would be for legislation that may arise from the Ohio Supreme Court's May 11 ruling that the state's school funding formula is unconstitutional. The court ruled the formula relies too heavily on property taxes.

        “This approach is consistent with my desire to maintain flexibility to respond to the school funding case,” Mr. Taft wrote in a letter to legislative leaders of both parties.

        The school construction bill would make it easier for school districts that need immediate help, but do not yet qualify for state aid, to begin repairs and construction with local money. Any local money raised would be counted toward the local matching money each district must raise to qualify for state programs. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Robert Cupp, a Lima Republican.

        Mr. Cupp told the committee about changes that the Senate had made since a similar bill was introduced in the House.

        “We tried to keep the bills in sync and I think we've done that,” Cupp said. “I think we have something that will help, in school facilities, almost every type of district.”

        The estate tax bill, sponsored by Sen. Robert Latta, a Bowling Green Republican, was all that remained of plans to cut that tax and property taxes.

        Senate President Richard Finan, a Cincinnati Republican, shelved plans for permanent property tax cuts after the Ohio Supreme Court ruling. Mr. Finan said the ruling made it impossible for lawmakers to consider permanent tax cuts at this time.

        House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, however, said discussions in the House centered on issues involving temporary or permanent cuts in property or income taxes as well as the estate tax cut.

        “I don't think it's any different or any clearer than it was last week,” said Ms. Davidson, a Reynoldsburg Republican.

        Under Mr. Latta's bill, Ohioans would keep more of what their family member or loved one leaves behind. The state would take its 36 percent share of the tax only on estates worth more than $675,000, the federal exemption. The state now takes a share on estates worth more than $25,000.

       



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