Senate Republicans and Democrats appear near a deal to balance the state budget by reaching into taxpayers’ pockets and taking away a tax cut.

But the five black Senate Democrats, whose support is critical, are balking at supporting the deal because it would change construction laws, which could hurt minority contractors.

The heart of the deal calls for delaying a 4.2 percent income tax cut that took effect in January.

Removing the tax cut would cost a family of four earning $60,000 annually about $85 more a year in taxes. It would raise an estimated $850 million, which would help fill a deficit in the state budget.

But to agree to delay the tax cut, Republicans want provisions included that would change the state’s public construction laws and criminal sentencing laws. Such changes, Republicans say, will save taxpayers money overall and help the state to avoid a massive tax increase in the next year’s state budget.

Republican senators also want to end a requirement that Ohio schools begin all-day kindergarten.

Senate President Bill Harris, a Republican, told reporters Wednesday evening that only the construction reform language opposed by black Democratic lawmakers remains as a roadblock to a budget deal.

Senate Republicans, which are the majority, have been wrestling for weeks over how to fill the state’s budget gap. House Democrats approved Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s plan to delay the tax cut, but Senate Republicans haven’t wanted to do that without some strings attached.

The Republican budget-balancing offer is supported by only five of the 21 Senate Republicans. So to get the 17 votes needed to pass the budget bill, all 12 Senate Democrats must vote for it.

Sen. Fred Strahorn, a Dayton Democrat, said black lawmakers don’t want issues of “tremendous magnitude” such as the provision rewriting how the state does construction projects “slapped together haphazardly” into the bill.

“They are expecting to furnish five votes and have us do something that is potentially devastating to segments of the contracting community,” he said.

Strahorn, who is black, said black lawmakers have concerns with how minority contractors would be impacted by the new rules, but also feel the changes haven’t been “properly vetted.”

Sen. Shirley Smith of Cleveland, who is black, was also emphatic saying that “the House sent us a clean bill and that’s what we want to vote out — Republicans are just muddying the waters.”

The construction reform changes are an attempt to alter the current “multiple prime” contracting system where separate contractors are required for each facet of a building project such as construction, plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling.

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Article courtesy of: Cleveland.com

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