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Friday April 20, 2001

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State governments tighten belts

By The Associated Press

Signs of the times: Saginaw, Mich., wants the YMCA to take over city recreation programs. Iowa lays off 600 state workers. Huntington, W. Va., thinks it can save money by living with flat tires.

As the U.S. economy falters, more states and cities are revisiting their budgets to cut spending, scale back plans, or just try to keep up with their own rapidly changing finances.

At least 15 states have cut their current budgets to make it to the end of the fiscal year in June. And eight states, acknowledging the bad economic weather, are dipping into ``rainy day'' funds to pay salaries and keep programs running.

``Those of us who've been around for a while learned when you see this coming, you better grab it by the neck and make your cuts,'' said Ohio Senate President Dick Finan, a 29-year veteran of the statehouse. ``You can't wait until the economy turns around.''

Several cities - even those not yet suffering - are preparing for rougher times. New York City's Mayor Rudy Giuliani, though projecting more than $2 billion in surpluses, ordered agencies to prepare possible cuts of up to $500 million.

Others struggling include Hartford, Conn., which must cover a $30 million gap in next year's budget; Huntington, W.Va., with $2 million in unpaid bills; and Saginaw, Mich., with a $1.8 million deficit.