By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - Fed up with budget proposals that would raise state taxes and spending, a group of conservative lawmakers on Tuesday offered a six-month, zero-growth spending plan as an alternative.
The proposal would freeze spending at state agencies through January, and give voters a chance to say yes or no to a proposed penny increase in the state sales tax this November.
That's a big change from a two-year, $49.3 billion budget bill that relies on the penny increase to bring in $2.5 billion. That bill is also about $1.2 billion short on cash, thanks to lower-than-expected state sales and income tax revenues.
"We think this is a rational way of dealing with the latest changes in projections from the governor's office," said Rep. Timothy J. Grendell, R-Chesterland, author of the conservatives' plan.
While legislative leaders and Gov. Bob Taft appeared to dismiss Grendell's idea, they had little to say about their behind-closed-doors search for a compromise budget they still hope to pass by the end of this week.
House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, continued to insist that the $49.3 billion plan the Senate passed in May is too expensive. He wants about $600 million in spending cut to match the $48.7 billion plan House members passed in April.
"We feel much more comfortable with the House level of spending," Householder said. "When you find out that you have a revenue shortage, that's probably our ceiling."
He didn't discuss options that would erase the remaining $600 million shortfall.
The state could spend some or all of a one-time bonus of $770 million in federal Medicaid funds.
Taft wants lawmakers to raise business taxes to produce nearly $700 million over the next two years.
A proposal that would ask voters to put video slot machines at racetracks could produce $500 million a year.
A slot machines proposal failed to pass a Senate committee Tuesday. Lawmakers also don't appear inclined to support Taft's business tax proposals.
And Taft has said he won't back a penny sales tax increase without business taxes. Senate President Doug White, R-Manchester, said he hoped to put a compromise plan before Senate members late today or early Thursday. He wouldn't discuss the details.
Regardless, Grendell said he and other House conservatives won't vote for higher taxes.
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