Ohio House Questions Whether the Proposed Budget is Balanced After Heated Debate

May 2, 2017

It took nearly three hours for the Republican-dominated House to pass its version of the budget, with 12 Republicans voting against it, and four Democrats breaking with the minority party and supporting it.

The budget eliminates Gov. John Kasich’s 17 percent income tax cut and the tax hikes that would have offset it, and adds millions more to fight the opioid crisis and to schools.

Medicaid and charter schools
Some districts will still get less money in the upcoming budget than they got in the current one, but it’s unclear how many. The budget requires Medicaid expansion spending to be reviewed by the state Controlling Board every six months – that’s the panel that Kasich used to get around conservative lawmakers to approve Medicaid expansion. It also adds $100 million for nursing homes, restoring cuts that Kasich had made. And Rep. Jack Cera, a Bellaire Democrat, notes another item buried in the budget.

“For some reason, we’re extending the term of the inspector general, who’s appointed by the governor. And this bill extends that current appointment, I believe, till 2021, and I’m not sure why we’re doing that.”

Kasich’s budget had required businesses to file their local net profits taxes through the state instead of with municipalities, but the House version made that optional. And the final version erases a fee that would have been attached to that.

The House budget also sets aside a million dollars for counties for new voting machines and requires charter schools to publish enrollment data and employee background check results on their websites, as well as curricula and reading lists for each grade.

Rep. Jack Cera (pictured) questioned the budget's action regarding the state's inspector general.
Credit STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU

Oil and gas rules
The budget also allows the Speaker of the House to appoint members of the Oil and Gas Leasing Commission. Opponents say it could open the door to fracking in state parks, because right now, the governor has the authority to appoint those commissioners. And Kasich has said he doesn’t support drilling or fracking on state lands.

Democrats diminished voice
Democrats put forward several amendments on the House floor – among them, taking money from the rainy day fund and JobsOhio for the opioid crisis and exempting some conditions from the work requirement on Medicaid expansion that the state will have to seek from the federal government. Some were tabled with remarks that they’re ideas that need further discussion – others were rejected with little comment.

Balanced by whose measure?
The state budget bill now heads to the Senate. But now, there sare questions about whether the plan, as it stands, is balanced.

House Republicans are touting their version of the budget as a proposal that decreases spending growth in several places, keeps taxes stable and invests $170 million more in the opioid crisis.

Above all else, the state Constitution requires the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget, which the House did, according to Republican Speaker Cliff Rosenberger of Clarksville.

“We passed a fiscally balanced budget with the numbers that we have to look at, and those numbers are going to change. And this is a process and come conference committee, we’ll have another different look at it that’s going to have different numbers and that’s still going to have a balanced budget,” he said.

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (pictured) defends the budget the house passed, saying it is balanced.
Credit ANDY CHOW / STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU

Kasich said the budget needed to be trimmed by $800 million. Some estimates say senators will have to cut another $400 million to bring it into balance.

Democratic House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn of Dayton isn’t convinced the budget is balanced. He believes the state could use some of the $2 billion in the rainy day fund to lighten the load, and likened Ohio’s economy to a car.

“Not just take your foot off the gas and coast into a recession but maybe put the brakes on that. If we don’t use the budget stabilization fund to stabilize our budget, Mr. Speaker, it is my belief that we will make the Ohio economy worse,” he said.

The budget also requires the Kasich administration to seek approval from the state Controlling Board to spend Medicaid expansion money every six months. Kasich’s office says part of a balanced budget is having a healthy workforce, which is strengthened by Medicaid expansion, and a Kasich spokesperson says that’s why that amendment is troubling.

Informal hearings on the two-year spending plan have already begun in the Senate.