CHICAGO -- The Ohio Legislature on Tuesday passed a $30.7 billion general fund budget for fiscal 1994-95 that state officials said contains modest growth for state government.

The spending plan for the biennium, which begins today, was expected to be signed into law by Gov. George Voinovich last night, according to Paolo De Maria, assistant director of the state's Office of Budget and Management.

The budget calls for $14.8 billion of general fund spending in fiscal 1994 and $15.8 billion of spending in fiscal 1995.

"The budget contains modest increases in revenues based on continued sluggish growth in the economy," De Maria said.

In fact, a decline in sales tax revenues since Voinovich introduced his budget plan in February forced budget negotiators to lower revenue projections and to fill a budget hole of about $150 million.

De Maria pointed out that a balance of $120.7 million is projected for the end of fiscal 1994 and a balance of $71.6 million for the end of fiscal 1995. The state's budget stabilization fund, which was depleted to help eliminate a fiscal 1992 budget deficit, will gain $32 million at the end of fiscal 1995. De Maria said $20 million is also expected to be placed in the fund from a fiscal 1993 balance of about $110 million.

Basic state aid for elementary and secondary education was boosted to 3,035 per pupil from $2,817 per pupil. The budget also expands steps taken in the fiscal 1992-93 budget to equalize school funding by restricting funding for wealthier districts.

In fiscal 1994, districts with more than $285,000 in property value per student will be given only 70% of their fiscal 1991 state funding level. The percentage would drop to 55% in fiscal 1995. In that year, districts with property values between $200,000 and $285,000 per student will only get 95% of their fiscal 1991 state funding level. The drop in state funding will only affect 16 of the more than 600 districts in the state.

The poorest districts, meanwhile, will get a subsidy totaling $135 million to help increase their per-pupil spending. Ohio is facing legal challenges to its school funding formula that seek to equalize annual per-student funding by districts, which now ranges from about $3,000 to 11,000.

Lawmakers cut back a proposed revenue bonding program for schools. The governor had included $100 million of bonds backed by state lottery revenues in his proposed budget, but lawmakers approved only about $68 million of that.

De Maria said the budget calls for backing the bonds with lease payments paid out of the state's general fund. He said the bonds will probably carry maturities of 7 to 10 years. The bonds will be issued by the state treasurer's office, with proceeds going to finance school building projects through the state's School Building Assistance Program.

Lawmakers also approved the creation of a pooled bond fund, which is administered by the state treasurer, for school districts that want to fund their capital projects directly.

Higher education, which has seen its share of budget cuts over the last two years, was given a 3% funding increase in fiscal 1994 and a 2% increase in fiscal 1995. Lawmakers also capped tuition increases at the greater of 5% or $180.

Legislators included funding in the budget for Voinovich's proposed 18-month study of Ohio's economy and tax structure to determine how to make the state more attractive to business, while ensuring adequate funding of government.

A budget compromise was hammered out by a conference committee over the past few weeks after the House and Senate passed different versions of the budget earlier this year.

A spokeswoman for Senate president Stanley Aronoff, R-Cincinnati, called the final budget "a pretty good compromise under tight circumstances." A spokesman for House Speaker Vern Riffe. D-Portsmouth, said the budget "holds the line on spending."

Still pending before lawmakers is a resolution to place before voters on Nov. 2 a $200 million general obligation bond issue for park improvements. The measure was passed by the House on Tuesday and could be passed by the Senate by the end of the week, according to Aronoff's spokeswoman.

The legislature has vet to pass campaign reform legislation. A bill mandating fuller disclosure of contributions has passed the House. Another bill that balls for disclosure and sets limits on the amount of contributions has passed the Senate.

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