Ohio Legislature passes $62B, 2-year state budget
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A state budget that cuts personal income taxes, revamps Ohio’s school-funding system and imposes new abortion restrictions cleared the state Legislature on Thursday over the objections of both Democrats and some Republicans.
Next stop for the $62 billion, two-year spending blueprint is the desk of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to sign it — with likely line-item vetoes — by a Sunday deadline.
The Ohio Senate passed the bill 21-11, with Sen. Kris Jordan the only GOP defection. In the Republican-dominated Ohio House, the bill eked out a 53-44 majority with seven Republicans opposed.
House Finance Chairman Ron Amstutz, a Wooster Republican, said he was disappointed in all the disappointment in a bill that involved so much time and compromise. He said the proposal would help families and Ohioans who are aspiring to be in a better place financially, make better wages and live a higher quality of life.
“That’s why we’re here,” he said. “That’s our purpose, to make our state stronger than it would otherwise be.”
Republicans were particularly proud of the $2.7 billion in overall tax cuts delivered over three years under the bill, including a phased in income-tax cut for individuals and small businesses.
The provision represents a political victory for Kasich, who made a campaign pledge to cut income taxes and faces re-election next year. It phases in a 10-percent cut over three years culminating in 2015.
The cut is partly paid for by increasing the state sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent. The bill also calls for applying the tax to digital goods, such as e-books and music downloads. Kasich’s earlier proposal to hike taxes on oil and gas drilling was excluded.
Democrats attacked the thrust of the tax changes, saying the income-tax cut would disproportionately benefit wealthier Ohioans while sales tax changes would hurt those struggling to make ends meet.
Rep. Mike Foley, a Cleveland Democrat, said the tax package was based on “greed and selfishness.” He said budgets are moral documents that reflect the principles and values of a society.
“Based on the content of this document, I believe that we are failing,” he said.
Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said wealthier residents pay more taxes — and so naturally receive a bigger share of cuts.
“Them that pays the most, will benefit the most when we cut rates. That’s just the math, that’s not an argument, that’s math,” he said.
Senate President Keith Faber took the rare step of leaving his leader’s perch to defend the bill.
“I respectfully submit to everyone in this chamber the comment that President Obama made last year during his campaign trail is just as true today as it was then: ‘You can’t drive the car into a ditch and expect us to give you back the keys,”’ Faber said. “The car is back on the road, and that’s a road to Ohio recovery.”
The budget adjusts how Ohio calculates the state’s share of funding to public school districts and community schools, increasing the amount schools receive per pupil to $5,745 in 2014 and $5,800, but eliminates a 12.5 percent property-tax subsidy that the state had been paying on new levies imposed by school districts, libraries and other public entities.
Democrats registered their harshest criticism of the day at Republicans’ failure to include an expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program in the bill.
Sen. Capri Cafaro, a Hubbard Democrat, called the decision cowardly, heartless and short-sighted.
“I have to admit, you can probably tell, that I have never been so angry, so appalled and so heartbroken by the actions of the General Assembly,” she said.
Cafaro appealed to Kasich to “do what’s right, follow your moral compass, and veto the language in this budget that stops our state from extending health coverage to hard-working Ohioans.”
Among hundreds of provisions in the bill was a last-minute amendment requiring Ohio doctors to inform women seeking abortions in writing whether a fetal heartbeat is present. Abortion-rights supporters were on the scene to protest the measure, with several escorted out for shouting “Shame on you, shame on you!” after the budget passed.
Rep. Terry Boose, a Norwalk Republican, said the bill’s 500-plus pages were filled with way too many unrelated policy items.
“Send us your numbers, but leave your policy out of it,” he said. “We need to stand strong as a group and say the budget is the budget. The budget is numbers. The budget isn’t policy.”
Democratic Rep. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood responded, “Brother, I agree,” and proceeded to criticize provisions addressing women’s reproductive health.