CHICAGO -- Ohio is facing a projected $440 million deficit in its $13 billion general revenue fund budget for fiscal 1992 because of lower-than-estimated revenues and additional spending needs, Greg Browning, the state's budget director, said yesterday.
Mr. Browning said the administration of Gov. George Voinovich would unveil a plan next week to deal with the deficit.
"The clock is ticking on the fiscal year," he pointed out. "We need to move to make budget adjustments sooner rather than later."
Fiscal 1992, which began July 1, has seen revenues come in $275 million below the administration's estimates, while spending needs have increased by $165 million, Mr. Browning said.
He explained that a decline in sales tax revenues was the major reason for the lag in tax revenues, and Medicaid and aid to dependent children were the cause of most of the spending increase.
He also cautioned that the projected $440 million deficit could grow by another $20 million as the administration continues to review the budget.
Mr. Browning said the administation's deficit reduction plan would include spending cuts enacted by the governor's executive order, fund transfers to the general revenue fund from other state agencies, possible revenue enhancement, and, "as a last resort," the use of budget stabilization fund money.
While the yet-to-be-determined amount of executive order cuts can be done solely under the governor's authority, Mr. Browning said legislative approval would be needed for tapping into the state's remaining $100 million budget stabilization fund, increasing revenues, and making some fund transfers.
"Our feeling is the scope of the problem is substantial enough that we need spending cuts and the ability from the legislature to do additional things," the budget director said.
Scott Borgemenke, a special assistant to Senate President Stanley Aronoff, R-Cincinnati, said leaders of the two state legislative houses would sit down next week with administration officials to go over "a menu" of options for eliminating the deficit, including closing some tax loopholes.
One thing Gov. Voinovich, a Republican who ran for the office on an antitax platform, and Sen. Aronoff will not consider is any increase in the state's major taxes, such as sales and personal income, according to both Mr. Browning and Mr. Borgemenke.
A spokesman for House Speaker Vern Riffe, D-Portsmouth, could not be reached for comment.
The $27.3 billion general fund budget for the 1992-93 biennium included $760 million in revenue enhancements and the use of $200 million of the state's then-8300 million budget stabilization fund in order to revert a $1.5 billion deficit over the biennium that had been projected by the Voinovich administration.
Rating agency officials are optimistic that Ohio will eliminate its current budget deficit.
James Dearborn, an assistant vice president at Moody's Investors Service, said Ohio's deficit was not "unexpected," given the lingering recession.
Mr. Dearborn said the Voinovich administration intends to deal with the problem promptly and added that the size of the deficit was "not so severe that the state can't deal with it."
According to Robin Prunty, an assistant vice president at Standard & Poor's Corp., "The state has historically dealt with its deficits in a prudent manner, and we expect them to do so this time.
"They have some expenditure flexibility and six months left in the fiscal year to deal with the imbalance," she said.
Action taken by the administration and the legislature late last year to cut spending, transfer funds, and use budget stabilization fund money eliminated a project $271 million deficit in the state's fiscal 1991 budget.
Standard & Poor's rates $436.6 million of the state's outstanding general obligation debt AA, while Moody's rates $953 million of that debt Aa.