The Burden of a Budget Deficit: The Voinovich Administration and the 1991 Budget Crisis

When Senator George Voinovich took the office as the 65th Governor of Ohio in 1991, the state was facing a biennial budget deficit of about $1.5 billion. While the previous years’ Governor and General Assembly had cut spending and increased revenue to address $270 million of the budget deficit, this problem was not going to be simple to solve. In his Inaugural Address, Senator Voinovich expressed, “It is safe to say that we have never before found ourselves in the midst of a financial crisis of the magnitude we face today” (Inaugural Address, 1991). While the task was daunting, Senator Voinovich and his administration worked across party lines to make hard decisions, including limiting the funding of certain programs and increasing state revenue to address this large deficit.

Since the budget impacts every state agency, local government and individual citizens, many voices would have to be heard in the process and the decisions would be highly contested. One of the primary methods used to edit the budget was utilizing direct contact with public administrators across the administration to request their suggestions and input. The Office of Budget Management provided recommendations to all state departments, agencies, boards and commissions but wanted their input to finalize any decisions made (Memo from Greg Browning to all state organizations – February 5, 1991).

Furthermore, cross-party negotiations and compromises had to be made to address the budget crisis. Following the 1991 election, the Ohio Senate had a Republican Majority while the House of Representatives had a Democratic Majority, which made negotiations more complex as the values of the parties came into conflict. For example, when the budget process began, the Democratic Caucus sent out correspondence to their Senators, describing the issues they had with the budget, which primarily focused on the cutting of budgets for different programs (Correspondence from the Democratic Caucus – March 20, 1991). Additionally, those within the Republican Party sent out alternative recommendations, such as limiting the privatization of the Ohio Turnpike or refinancing the State debt (Correspondence from Senate President Stanley Aronoff to Greg Browning – January 16, 1991). Though this was challenging, former Director of the Ohio Office of Budget and Management, Greg Browning, expressed the importance of working together to complete the project in a recent interview, “This meant that negotiation and compromise were the order of the day. Having a history with both houses and those relationships certainly helped me as a representative of the administration. These relationships matter a great deal in the decisions making process.”

Additionally, a short amount of time was available to make the budgetary decisions, and many compromises were made by all parties. For example, from the beginning, Senator Voinovich had planned to limit any cuts made to primary and secondary education as well as programs that supported children, those with disabilities, and the elderly (Agency by Agency Analysis of the House Budget Bill – May 16, 1991). Furthermore, he agreed to use more money from the Rainy Day Fund as state revenue to alleviate some of the cuts to the budget (Letter from Voinovich to Aronoff and Riffe – July 3, 1991).

The budget reallocations that occurred in 1991 would be the first of many as the administration attempted to control the deficit. Browning expressed, “We ended up with four rounds of budget cuts and a tax increase from January to 1991 to December of 1992.” While these were not easy decisions to make, the administration worked to involve as many people in the decision-making process and make compromises with other organizations to ensure a strong commitment to the public. The end result, while difficult, reiterated to many why Governor Voinovich was elected: he focused on doing more with less. “[George Voinovich] was a great believer in the power of people working together effectively,” said Browning, “He was Genuine George. What you see is what you get. He was a great leader. The kind of guy that people were really happy about.”

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One thought on “The Burden of a Budget Deficit: The Voinovich Administration and the 1991 Budget Crisis

  1. Pingback: “Public-Public Partnership”: Leadership through Principled Decisions and Relationship Building | Voinovich School Blog

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