COLUMBUS -- Gov. John Kasich signed half a dozen bills Monday that were part of his mid-biennium budget review, officially enacting new tax cuts, changed high school graduation testing and numerous other law changes.
Kasich touted the main legislation, House Bill 483, during ceremonies at a suburban Columbus food bank, saying tax cuts and other provisions will help the state's needy residents and continue Ohio's economic growth.
"We are focusing the tax benefit on the people who are at the lowest income level," the governor said. "At the same time, we're bringing down the top rate so we don't chase our most successful people out of Ohio, because in case you forget, they're the ones that create the jobs. We don't want to chase job creators out of Ohio."
He added later, "We are trying to transform the state and include everyone."
Democrats continued to oppose the legislation Monday. In a joint statement, gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald and the minority leaders of the Ohio House and Senate called the bill "a clear statement of Gov. Kasich's and Statehouse Republicans' misplaced priorities. It is unforgivable that this budget does nothing to stop the increase in property taxes and other local levies. In fact, this new budget continues Gov. Kasich's trend of cutting funds for local communities and education to create income tax cuts for the top 1 percent."
But social services groups and Republican lawmakers praised HB 483, noting the acceleration of an already-implemented income tax reduction, meaning filers will see a 10 percent cut next year instead of 9 percent.
"Cutting taxes for all Ohio families that pay taxes is a critical piece of improving this economy," said Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon. "Keeping money in our hometowns to spend locally at the grocery store, at the car dealership, wherever you go, the hardware (store), is vitally important to improving this state's economy and bringing jobs back."
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).
"Let me be clear," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, who spoke at Monday's bill signing. "The (earned income tax credit) is a powerful anti-poverty tool working for low-income Ohioans so they can keep more of the money that they earned. For many of these families, the EITC, which is a refundable credit at the federal level, provides an annual boost that allows them to pay for major expenses, like a car repair, house repairs, car insurance, food, to pay down medical debt and in some cases student loans."
HB 483 included many other provisions -- career development programming for school children, increased services for residents addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers, efforts to better connect needy Ohioans with public benefits, $17 million more for school security systems and language blocking college athletes from forming unions.
Kasich used his line-item veto authority to strike several minor provisions but left most of the legislation untouched.
The governor signed other mid-biennium budget bills behind closed doors Monday, including HB 487, which institutes new testing requirements for graduation for incoming freshmen and outlines numerous other education-related law changes.
The governor also signed HB 486 (work force development changes), HB 488 (veterans issues), HB 492 (other tax changes) and HB 493 (workers' compensation provisions).