From the Columbus Dispatch…
Agencies' budget outlook: Painful
Prisons would close, services would dry up under some scenarios
Thursday, December 2, 2010
By Mark Niquette
Some state prisons would close and the rest would be dangerously overcrowded, college tuition could increase significantly and fewer Ohioans would get long-term health care from the state.
The dire warnings were among the initial budget estimates that state agencies were required to submit by yesterday to state legislative leaders and Republican Gov.-elect John Kasich.
Those requests, plus a national report issued yesterday outlining the difficult budget situation that all states face, underscore the challenge for Kasich and the legislature as they prepare a two-year spending plan with an expected $8billion shortfall that is due by June 30.
Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland's administration instructed each state agency to prepare budget estimates using two scenarios: one based on receiving 100 percent of this year's funding, the other based on getting 90 percent.
The state budget office said it didn't have a summary of the agencies' proposals, and that the submissions could be obtained only from each individual agency. But an initial review of some of the larger agency proposals showed:
• The Board of Regents suggested a sharp reduction in financial aid would be required under the 90 percent funding scenario and warned that if state support were to decline, "Ohio's public campuses would need to significantly increase tuition to sustain balanced budgets" and meet enrollment goals.
• Budget cuts in the Department of Job and Family Services are likely to impact the state's neediest residents because 87 percent of the agency's budget goes to services. A 90 percent budget would result in fewer families receiving subsidized child care, reduced payments to child-care providers and higher co-pays for low-income families to access such services.
• Optional Medicaid services could be eliminated, including dental coverage, prescription drugs and hospice services. The agency also said the timeliness of child-protection investigations will be affected, "placing children at greater risk for maltreatment."
• The Department of Aging said more than 25,000 people would not receive long-term care services during the next two years with 100 percent funding, and that nearly 33,800 people would go without under the 90 percent scenario.
• The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction raised the possibility of inmates being released.
Even at 100 percent of current funding, the agency said it would have to cut 339 corrections positions and close prisons because of the expected increase in payroll costs during the next two years.
That would increase prison overcrowding to 151.4 percent of capacity by 2013, the largest percentage in state history and "higher than at the time of the Lucasville riot" in 1993, Director Ernie L. Moore wrote in his summary.
At 90 percent of current funding, the department would lose 1,571 prison jobs through closing prisons and would take drastic steps such as "hot bunking," or having inmates sharing a bed based on shifts, Moore wrote. Overall department layoffs could reach 2,454, he said.
The cumulative effect of agency cuts would risk "threatening the safety of the public, staff and inmates," and the state would be "substantially more prone to litigation in multiple facets of operations," Moore wrote.
Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said there are no estimates on how many prisons would close under either scenario because those decisions would be made when final budget numbers are available.
Kasich hasn't provided details about how he plans to deal with prisons or other agencies in the executive budget he must introduce by March 15, other than promising not to raise taxes and saying "everything is on the table."
Spokesman Ron Nichols said Kasich's budget team started reviewing the budget documents yesterday.
Kasich, one of 29 new governors taking office next year, isn't alone in facing a budget crisis, according to a report issued yesterday by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers.
"We just hope they don't quit when they see how bad the budget is," NGA Executive Director Raymond C. Scheppach quipped during a conference call.
The report said Ohio and most states are expecting a slight increase in revenue and spending during the current fiscal year that ends June 30. But after two of the worst budget years since the Great Depression, spending and revenue nationwide are not likely to return to pre-recession levels until 2013 or 2014.
Making matters worse, states already have made significant cuts and face what the report calls the "cliff" in the 2012 fiscal year when federal stimulus money that helped balance current budgets ends.
"The low-hanging fruit has been picked; a lot of very difficult actions have been taken by states already," said Scott D. Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.