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2017 In Review: John Kasich Battles Ohio Republicans Over Budget

Allegra Boverman

This year’s biggest drama at the Ohio Statehouse centered around the ongoing struggles between Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Legislature, which culminated in a continuing battle over vetoes. 

Perhaps the most controversial item included in this year’s giant budget bill was a plan to freeze Medicaid enrollment for the expanded population. Deciding to expand Medicaid in Ohio under the federal Affordable Care Act is a seminal part of Gov. John Kasich’s legacy in office.

So with his veto pen, Kasich struck that provision out of the budget.

“We have 700,000 Ohioans who have been able to benefit from the expansion,” Kasich said. “It’s been able to bring into our state nearly $300 million just in Medicaid expansion alone.”

And it wasn’t just the Medicaid expansion freeze. Kasich vetoed 46 other measures from the budget, many dealing with Medicaid. A lot of the provisions dealt with shifting power away from the governor’s administration and toward the legislature.

Ohio’s House Pushes Back

Kasich’s vetoes set up a showdown between Kasich and the General Assembly. The House didn’t take long to make their next move, and quickly responded by overriding 11 of those vetoes.

Most of the overrides dealt with Medicaid, such as legislative approval for funding changes, seeking more flexibility on charging premiums, and increasing a tax on health insurance to generate local revenue. 

Republican Rep. Ryan Smith of Bidwell believed these overrides displayed an important function of the legislature.

“Today we celebrate independence in the sense of what our forefathers granted to us in our Constitution, which is a separate but equal branch of government,” Smith said. “I want to be clear it’s not about winning or losing today; it’s about exercising the checks and balances that the government has.”

This was the first time the Ohio House ever took a vote to override a veto from Kasich. 

Those 11 House overrides made their way to the Senate, where the chamber officially implemented six measures Kasich didn’t want. Republican Senate president Larry Obhof echoed the House’s sentiments about the power struggle between Kasich and lawmakers.

“The administrative state has taken on what were traditionally or what should be responsibility of the legislature, and we are starting to take some of those back,” he said.

This was the first time in 40 years lawmakers had overridden a budget veto. 

What Vetoes Remain?

Other vetoes still stand, though they've apparently been resolved through ongoing talks. For example, the House overrode a veto to let the General Assembly appoint members to an oil and gas commission.

The House said six years have gone by and Kasich had yet to appoint people to the panel. The Senate didn't act on that, but now Kasich has named several appointees to the commission.

Another dispute was over attaching a franchise fee to managed care organizations, which would patch a budget hole for local governments left behind when the government eliminated a tax on Medicaid managed care groups. The now-eliminated tax brought in about $207 million annually.

Instead of overriding the veto and allowing for the franchise fee, lawmakers met with several groups and approved a one-time transitional fund of $50 million.

Democratic Senate minority leader Kenny Yuko said the fix still isn’t enough to prevent cuts to local public transportation.

“There’s gonne be some of our constituents who aren’t going to have access, whether the people with disabilities or senior citizens or students, and that’s gonna cause problems,” Yuko said.

The freeze on Medicaid enrollment for the expanded population could still be overridden in the next year. House and Senate leaders have said the freeze would be helpful in the event that Congress repeals the expansion down the road.