Ohio Senate budget sends more money to schools and cities

COLUMBUS, Ohio Tue May 31, 2011 6:46pm EDT

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - The Ohio Senate on Tuesday unveiled its version of a two-year state budget that would send more money to schools and local governments than a spending plan passed by the House earlier this month.

The Republican-controlled Senate also called for more oversight over any plan to privatize the Ohio Turnpike by requiring legislative approval to lease the toll road to private operators.

"It's safe to say that the legislature wants to have some input into any changes that would be made in the operation of the turnpike," said Senate President Tom Niehaus.

The Senate's fiscal 2012-13 budget plan would provide $115 million more for primary and secondary school districts and $100 million more to local governments. But funding will still sink below prior levels.

"Naturally, when we're trying to fill an $8 billion hole, we don't have the resources to sustain previous funding levels for schools and local governments, but we're doing everything we can to mitigate those reductions," said Senator Chris Widener, a Springfield Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, in a statement.

The Senate's proposed budget strips out teacher merit pay language that was included in the House-passed budget. That has been a sticking point since opponents of recently passed curbs on collective bargaining for public employees hope to place a measure on the November ballot to repeal the law.

Teacher merit pay that was in the Republican-controlled House's budget was viewed as a way to put those changes into law as an end run around that vote in the fall.

The Senate plan mandates the Ohio lottery privatize its daily operations by June 2012 and Niehaus said the idea is to make the lottery more profitable.

The budget bill, which was introduced in the finance committee on Tuesday, is expected to reach the full Senate next week, according to Jason Mauk, a spokesman for Senate Republicans.

Differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget would be worked out in a conference committee. Ohio Governor John Kasich in March released his $55.5 billion budget for the fiscal biennium that begins July 1.

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