Ohio lawmakers pass two-year state budget; DeWine expected to sign it later this week
The fiscal year dawned this weekend with no two-year state budget signed into law. But the House and Senate passed a compromise budget late Friday, which Gov. Mike DeWine is now looking over. With the last of the one-time federal COVID relief funds in it, this budget had plenty of money to go around, so a lack of money wasn’t the reason for the delay.
Friday at midnight was the budget deadline. And after days of talks, that morning there was still no final agreement on a spending plan.
But around noon when the agreement was done, things speeded up. An hour after the six-member conference committee was set to meet, members came in and chair Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) went over the differences between the House and Senate budgets – and said he’d be moving things along and not stopping for the standard party line objections.
It took an hour and a half to go over the nearly 900 differences between Gov. Mike DeWine’s initial budget, the House’s budget and the Senate’s spending plan – with Edwards noting which version the final budget contains.
The final $86 billion two-year budget includes the Senate’s $3.1 billion in tax cuts. The three income tax brackets in the House budget are reduced to two — 2.75% and 3.5%. And the budget phases in an exemption that will mean 90% of businesses won't pay the commercial activity tax, the state’s main business tax, by the end of the two-year budget cycle. With federal funding and other funds counted, the budget totals $191.2 billion.
On education spending, the House accepted the plan to overhaul the Department of Education and strip power from the elected members the state school board in exchange for the traditional K-12 public school spending representatives wanted. The House’s K-12 spending was half a billion dollars more than the Senate’s. But the budget also includes the Senate’s plan to expand the private school EdChoice voucher program to any family that wants them, with families at higher incomes getting smaller vouchers. And the final budget doesn’t include the Republican-created higher education overhaul, which would have banned faculty strikes and most diversity training on university campuses and among many other things.
With time ticking away, the budget then went to the House and Senate floors. Supermajority Republicans in both chambers stood up to speak for the budget. Nearly all Democrats in the House had voted for that chamber’s budget, while no Democratic senators supported their chamber’s changes.
House Minority Leader Allison Russo said she has serious concerns about the verification of voucher families’ incomes and accountability for school choice in general. She noted the sentencings of Republican former speaker Larry Householder to 20 years in prison the day before and former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges to five years in prison that morning for the House Bill 6 nuclear power plant bailout scandal.
“What it did to this institution is, it undermined trust in our public officials and what our state government can do for its citizens. And unfortunately, what I see in this budget is, we are making the same mistakes. We are not correcting those mistakes and making it better," Russo said.
Eight Democrats in the House voted for the final budget. No Senate Democrats did.
Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) held the House GOP caucus together though it’s been divided between supporting him and his rival Derek Merrin. Stephens said after the vote he was disappointed that the final budget didn't get more Democratic support.
“You want to try to get as many votes as you can for every bill. That's important," Stephens said. "I think the the overall theme was that there was something in there for everybody, probably, and there's something in there that not all of us like. And the question is, does it balance, you know, which which side to the scales go to?”
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) was more blunt: “We did not ignore the requests of the Democratic caucus. There are a lot of things that were put in there knowing that they would not vote for the budget because globally it wasn't a budget they would like.”
Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said her caucus had real fundamental disagreements with the tax and higher education policy in the budget, so there was no way that they could have supported it.
“There were compromises, but they were between the Senate Republicans and the House Republicans. That's the compromise that was there," Antonio said.
The budget also:
- extends the one-week sales tax holiday in August to two weeks, at a cost of $750 million
- caps subsidized child care at 145% of the federal poverty level, which is about $35,000 a year for a family of three
- requires social media companies to verify age and parental consent for users under 16
- removes a requirement of photos on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] cards, often called food stamps
- sets up the One Ohio Recovery Foundation as a nonprofit corporation for spending $1.1 billion in opioid settlement money, which will be exempt from public records and meetings laws
The chambers also passed a temporary extension on the current budget to give Gov. Mike DeWine a chance to read and sign it, and also to veto items if he wishes. DeWine issued 14 vetoes when he signed the current budget and 25 vetoes in signing the budget in 2019. He may not sign the budget until after the July 4 holiday.