MOUNT VERNON — Bill Harris, president of the Ohio Senate, was the featured guest at Thursday’s Mount Vernon/Knox County Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Harris gave an overview of the state budget process and explained the timelines involved in developing a budget acceptable to the House and Senate, as well as to the governor.
One of the key points, he said, is that the Ohio Constitution requires a balanced budget, although the federal constitution does not. In other words, the state cannot simply print more money and engage in deficit spending.
Ohio is very close to its borrowing cap, Harris said. When actual revenues do not match projected income, as is the case here, the Legislature has to take steps to either reduce expenditures, increase revenues, or both. Harris said that early in the budget process, the Senate resolved not to raise taxes on Ohioans because of the current economic situation.
That meant cuts had to be made and revenues from other sources had to be used for the state’s operating money. The “rainy day fund” is one of those sources, as is federal stimulus money. Those helped to balance the budget on paper, but are one-time funds.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Harris said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Another projected revenue source is income from video lottery machines at seven racetracks in Ohio. Although some legislators wanted to put the matter before the voters in November, Harris said, Gov. Strickland issued an executive order allowing electronic gambling at the racetracks. The Legislature then had to work out the policies and implementation plans related to that order. In case those revenues are less than expected, Harris said the Legislature will have to develop a Plan B; there is currently no funding plan in place to make up for such a shortfall.
Harris is, however, optimistic about the future, and maintains a positive outlook. He said he has faith in the Ohio people’s commitment to make things better.
Following his formal presentation, Harris answered questions from the audience. Speaking to the News, he quelled rumors that he plans to step aside before his term expires Dec. 31, 2010. Harris said he will continue to fulfill his responsibilities as senator as long as he remains in good health, “Lord willing.”