Ohio's budget crisis demands straight talk from Columbus

Last week, Gov. Bob Taft announced that he is ordering most state agencies to slash their budgets by 6 percent because revenue for the current fiscal year which ends in June is expected to fall short by $600 million from what was projected when he signed the $45 billion two-year spending plan last summer.
In explaining the biennium budget in April, Taft made the following comment: "We're cutting into bone and tissue and nerve here."
Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that with the additional 6 percent reduction, state agencies will have to consider amputation.
Yet the Republican leadership in the Ohio General Assembly does not appear to have a sense of urgency in addressing this emergency situation. Indeed, the comments of state Rep. James Trakas, R-Independence, the majority whip, suggest that the next year's election is very much on the minds of the Republican Party as it tries to maneuver through this budgetary minefield.
"I don't buy the fact that we're down to the bone in state government," Trakas said. "I still think there's tons of fat to go through in the bureaucracy of state government. We see the private sector cutting jobs and I think sometimes the public sector has to cut back also."
Tons of fat? We'd certainly like the majority whip to identify those agencies that can absorb the $600 million shortfall the governor talked about last week.
Prisons: When the director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Reginald Wilkinson, warns that five or six state prisons would have to close if the department's operating budget is cut by 6 percent, that's an emergency situation. Even with a 3 percent cut, hundreds of employees will have to be furloughed.
Perhaps Rep. Trakas has forgotten what could happen when prisons are understaffed. He would do well to read the official reports pertaining to the 1993 inmate riot at the Southern Ohio Correction Facility in Lucasville. The 11-day siege resulted in one guard and nine inmates being killed.
But if that doesn't convince Trakas, perhaps the warning from Ohio's flagship university will give him pause:
"There will be hundreds of jobs reduced in the university," said Larry Lewellen, assistant vice president for human resources at Ohio State University. "How many of them will have people in them is unknown."
Higher education in Ohio, which has historically been treated like a stepchild in the state budget, is taking an even harder hit this year because the Republican governor and the Republican-controlled legislature have chosen to pay for primary and secondary public education from existing revenue. The state is under an Ohio Supreme Court order to increase per-student spending.
Every state agency has taken a hit, not just because general fund dollars have been redirected to primary and secondary schools but as a result of the worsening national and state economies.
Tax: The governor recognizes the need to increase revenue -- there is talk of dipping into the $1 billion rainy day fund, but that would be a one-time proposition -- but the Republican leadership in the legislature has so far dismissed any talk of a tax for primary and secondary education.
As we've said in the past, robbing Peter to pay Paul isn't the way for a major state to deal with its fiscal woes. Sooner, rather than later, the shuffling of funds will undermine Ohio's job-creation efforts, cripple higher education and interrupt services to those who need them the most, Ohio's poor.