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Ohio Senate Seeks To Finance Reforms Without Tax Hike

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The Ohio Senate last week adopted a $23.7-billion biennial state budget that the chamber's leaders say will pay for a massive education-reform package without a tax increase.

Gov. Richard Celeste, however, continues to insist that taxes will have to go up in order to raise general state school aid and pay for new programs.

The reform package, which originated in the Senate and is currently before the House education committee, addresses issues including parental choice and deregulation in return for greater local accountability. Most of the proposals stem from the recommendations of the Education 2000 Commission, which was appointed by the Governor last year.

According to a spokesman for Senate President Stanley J. Aronoff, the Senate's version of the budget provides ample funding for school reform.

"Our version allows for significant inroads in the area of accountability and excellence in state schools," the spokesman said. "Not as much as the Governor's budget plan would, but we propose doing it without a tax increase."

But Reuven M. Carlyle, the Gov4ernor's deputy press secretary, said the Senate's reform proposal was "limited in its vision."

"The Senate has said, 'What can we get away with for education this year?"' Mr. Carlyle said. "It's just a couple of steps on the path toward sweeping reform."

A Long-Term Plan

The Governor's proposal, on the other hand, "looks 10 and 20 years down the road," he argued.

Earlier this year, Governor Celeste proposed a $26.1-billion biennial budget that would include $5.8 billion for elementary and secondary education.

In addition, the Governor also proposed a 1 percent increase in the state income tax and corporate franchise taxes to raise an additional $1.8 billion, which would be used to create a special trust fund for education.

The Senate budget--which allots about $6.6 billion to the general fund for education over two years--would provide precollegiate education with about $66 million more than the $26.3-billion state spending plan passed by the House last month. The Senate plan assumes that state revenues will be more than $173 million greater than the amount assumed by the House.

In addition, the Senate plan does not include $200 million in "sin" taxes on items such as beer and cigarettes that was proposed by the House.

A House-Senate conference committee was scheduled to begin deliberations on the budget June 6.

Bond Refinancing Proposed

Last month, Senator Aronoff and several other Senate Republicans proposed that the state refinance some of its bonds to raise additional money for education. The proposal came too late, however, to be included in the Senate's budget.

Senator Aronoff's spokesman said the idea was "still very much alive." He noted that a group of Republican lawmakers visited several bond-rating agencies in New York last week to discuss the idea.

The Governor and the House's Democratic leadership oppose the proposal, saying that refinancingel10lmay hurt the state's bond rating and increase future debt.

Mr. Carlyle called the proposal "a political gimmick that future taxpayers would not find very funny."

The Governor, however, supports most of the other elements included in the Senate-developed reform package now before the House.

The legislation calls for:

An open-enrollment program that would allow students to attend the school of their choice within their home district;

The collection and publication of data on the performance of each school and district;

Waiving state regulations for high-performing districts, and

Authority for the state superintendent of public instruction to place "monitors" in districts deemed deficient.

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