Mid-biennium budget bill moves on for Kasich's signature

By MARC KOVAC @ohiocapitalblog mkovac@dixcom.com Published:

COLUMBUS -- With continued opposition from most Statehouse Democrats, the Ohio House and Senate gave their final approvals Wednesday to the main mid-biennium budget bill, sending it to Gov. John Kasich for his expected signature.

The final version of House Bill 483 includes a few more tax cuts, increased spending for drug addiction services and school career development programs and numerous other law and policy changes that backers say will further strengthen the state's economy, help unemployed Ohioans find jobs and provide assistance to residents in need.

"HB 483 streamlines, reforms and advances services to our fellow Ohioans," said Sen. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton. "... We are continuing to be fiscally responsible with taxpayers' dollars."

Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, added during deliberations in the House that the legislation "will help our communities lift more Ohioans to better places."

But opponents said the legislation should have shifted more funding to local governments and needy residents instead of instituting election-year tax cuts that carry more benefits for the wealthy.

"We have seen the continuation of an almost stagnant economy while our residents continue to be asked to shoulder more burdens at the local level," said Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus. "… The ability is there to make significant and meaningful investments in our citizens and communities who desperately need help, but this MBR misses on those opportunities."

The final votes on HB 483 were 58-32 in the House and 24-7 in the Senate. Kasich can still alter the legislation, using his line-item veto authority.

HB 483 is one of a dozen bills that make up Kasich's latest mid-biennium review, with corrections and policy changes proposed midway through the current two-year budget cycle.

Lawmakers moved a number of the bills in advance of their summer recess exit from the Statehouse this week. Several others, including the governor's long-sought increase in tax rates on oil and gas produced via horizontal hydraulic fracturing, have stalled in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Among other provisions, HB 483 included a number of additional tax cuts, notably an acceleration of an already-implemented income tax reduction, meaning filers will see a 10 percent cut next year instead of 9 percent. The legislation also increased a small business tax deduction, personal exemptions for Ohioans earning up to $80,000 annually and the state's earned income tax credit (to 10 percent of the federal credit, up from 5 percent).

The bill contains many other law changes, including language boosting career development and mentoring programs for school children and increasing services to residents addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers.

Lawmakers added language creating an "Office of Human Services" within the Ohio Department of Job and Family Service. According to an analysis by the state's Legislative Service Commission, the new office will "coordinate and reform public assistance programs."

Another sections of the bill requires the governor to form a work group to "develop proposals to help individuals cease relying on public assistance."

The final version of the bill retained $17 million for additional grants to improve security systems at schools, bonus payments for caseworkers who help unemployed Ohioans find jobs and language declaring that college athletes are not employees of the schools they attend, a preemptive strike against students who pursue forming unions.

During final negotiations between the House and Senate, lawmakers removed a number of earmarks, including $500,000 to support the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Cincinnati, though the Kasich administration reportedly is seeking other sources for the latter.

They also left out controversial language that would have voided an administrative rule that regulated certain campaign contributions from union groups and corporations.

While ultimately passing both chambers, the vote in the House stalled late Wednesday afternoon after some Republican members balked at a provision transferring up to $300 million in surplus monies to a Medicaid Reserve Fund.

The Senate had to add language to a different bill blocking the Controlling Board from transferring those funds without a vote of the full legislature before the final House's final action on HB 483.

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