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COLUMBUS — House Republicans stripped most of Gov. John Kasich’s tax reform and other controversial measures from biennial budget legislation Tuesday in the first major alteration of the two-year spending plan proposed by the administration.
Despite a tight budget, legislative leaders also amended the budget bill to pump an additional $170.6 million into efforts to combat drug addiction and $90 million in additional formula funding for schools.
Amendments included one-time $25,000 payments to counties to support community coalitions focused on the drug epidemic and an extra $20 per pupil in school formula funding.
Tasked with cutting $800 million from the proposed budget for the next two fiscal years, the House would set general revenue spending at nearly $66 billion ($32.7 billion in fiscal 2018 and $33.29 billion in ‘19), down from the nearly $67 billion proposed by the governor.
House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said the amended budget was about “restraining growth” while protecting essential services.
“These budget adjustments, I believe, put Ohio in a very strong position in the case of a recession, in the case of anything that should happen in the future,” he said. “And for the first time in many years, you’ll also see that is, regarding the all-funds budget over the two years, under the rate of inflation.”
House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) added, “We’ve really focused on trying to operate within our means, trying to restrain growth as much as we can.”
The changes were unveiled Rosenberger and other GOP leaders in the chamber Tuesday morning, then added to the budget legislation later in the day by the House Finance Committee.
The latter has scheduled additional hearings on the budget bill through the end of the week, with more amendments and a committee vote on Monday, setting up vote by the full House thereafter.
Emmalee Kalmbach, a spokeswoman for Kasich, said in a released statement, “Balancing our budget and restraining spending are essential to fostering a jobs-friendly climate and continuing Ohio’s economic recovery. Speaker Rosenberger and his colleagues in the House understand that and it’s reflected in the ideas they offered today. We look forward to taking a closer look at the details, sharing whatever feedback we may have and then eventually moving forward to the Senate where President [Larry] Obhof has a similar commitment to conservative budgeting.”
She added, “Together we will protect Ohio’s hard-won budget health and keep our state moving forward.”
Other than offering a brief explanation of the amendments, there was little discussion about the changes during Tuesday’s committee hearing.
Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire), ranking minority member of the Finance Committee, said Democrats on the panel would not initially object to the amendments Tuesday but still had questions about the overall bill and expected a rigorous debate on the issue involved in coming days.
On tax reform, the amended budget would reduce the number of individual brackets to seven from nine. But House Republicans removed most of the governor’s tax package, which included a small income tax cut backed by increases in some sales taxes and rates on cigarettes, other tobacco and vaping products, alcohol and oil and gas produced via horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
House Republicans also spiked proposals to add three business people as non-voting members of school boards, require teachers to complete externships at businesses to help them better understand changing work force needs, and centralize the collection of municipal income taxes at the state level.
They added other measures likely to draw debate, including language giving probate courts broad authority over park districts.
“The fact that the majority included this amendment in the sub bill to me shows us that Columbus is intent on quelling dissent,” Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland), who opposes the move, said in a released statement. “Allowing a probate judge to fine or impose penalties on community members who voice concerns about park board decisions weakens our democracy.”
The amended budget also includes changes to the way farmland taxes are calculated — an attempt to address concerns about property valuations and farmers’ tax bills.
“Our agricultural community has had some very difficult times,” said Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton), who has been working on the current agricultural use value changes. “In fact, they’ve been caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, their property values have gone up exponentially, over 300 percent in recent years. On the other hand, farm income is down, the second lowest it’s been since the 1920s. So we need to modernize the CAUV formula.”
Among other amendments added to the budget Tuesday was language that:
◆ “Exempts automotive shredder residue from solid waste requirements and fees if it is intended to be used as mulch.”
◆ “Exempts a processor of apple syrup or butter who grows and uses 75 percent of their own apples for their product from … standards for food processing establishments.”
◆ “Allows an A-4 liquor permit holder to manufacture and sell ice cream containing up to 6 percent alcohol by volume.”
◆ “Exempts enclosed laboratory spaces at colleges and universities where clinical research is taking place from the Smoke Free Workplace Act.” • “Prohibits the use of credit cards for lottery purchases.”
◆ “Expands video poker to racinos” and “reduces the percentage of [video lottery terminal] revenue going to racinos from 66.5 percent to 65.5 percent.” • “Allows public and chartered non-public schools the option of using paper for state tests.”
◆ “Mandates that drivers education courses include instruction on substance and prescription drug abuse, the science of addiction and the effect of psychoactive substances while driving.” • “Reimburses mileage for GA members for a session outside of the seat of government.”
◆ “Eliminates the Constitutional Modernization Commission on July 1, 2017.” • “Directs the parole authority to notify a sheriff in a county where a felon is going to live at least two weeks before the release.” • “Exempts prescription eyewear from the sales and use tax in FY ‘20.” • “Clarifies that public officials are allowed to accept registration fees, travel expenses, and meals during a meeting or convention of a national, state, and regional organizations that a government body pays dues to. This amendment corrects a misinterpretation of the ethics law by the Ohio Ethics Commission in an informal advisory opinion.”
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.