Ohio House committee passes its version of the state operating budget
The Ohio House Finance Committee has passed a $95 billion dollar, two-year operating budget with bipartisan support and no debate or disagreement. After weeks of long hearings, this entire meeting lasted less than five minutes.
Republicans, who said they intended to add an income tax cut to Gov. Mike DeWine's initial budget, say this spending plan has a middle-class tax cut. The House budget eliminates income taxes for those making under $26,050 and combines the bottom two tax brackets and cuts that tax rate to 2.75%.
"I think we landed in a really good spot," House Finance Committee chair Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said. "I think this budget is really about middle income votes, and I feel really good about where we landed. I think anytime you walk away and not everyone is thrilled, but everyone is a little happy and maybe a little upset, that's a pretty a good spot to be."
Edwards said after House Republicans put out their budget last week, there were a record of around 2,400 amendments proposed by representatives.
Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Westlake), the ranking Democrat on the House Finance Committee, said while it isn't perfect, it accomplishes a lot of goals that will help Ohioans.
"I am confident that we have arrived at a balanced, bipartisan budget that better reflects the needs of our state and truly invests in our communities." Sweeney said.
Sweeney said the budget increases child care funding so more Ohioans who need it can access it. And she liked the fact that this version of the budget includes Medicaid coverage for things that haven't been covered before, like doula services for example.
Sweeney applauded this budget for making a significant investment in K-12 public schools. She said this version of the budget includes a $1.3 billion dollar commitment to public education. She said it is the "largest and most justified increase in recent history."
No universal vouchers for private schools in this budget
Across the street from the Statehouse, some Republicans gathered with school voucher advocates at the Americans for Prosperity office. The parents and voucher supporters gathered had wanted the House to fund what is known as the "Backpack Bill" by expanding vouchers that can be used by nearly every family who prefers to send at private schools.
While there is some money for expanded vouchers in this version of the budget, the sponsor of the "Backpack Bill", Rep. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky), said he's disappointed there's not more.
"Opportunities on the table for the Backpack Bill are not there currently. I have drafted a floor amendment that I plan to push our leadership on to try to get another bite of the apple before it gets out of the House," McClain said.
But some Republicans said it's not feasible to expand vouchers in the way McClain and others want. A recent budget analysis conducted for state lawmakers showed an expansion of Ohio’s school voucher program to include nearly all K-12 students would cost more than $1 billion dollars in its the first year. Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said the program is too expensive.
"Financially it would throw our budget out of whack. We would be above the state appropriation limitations," Edwards said.
Edwards said if people want universal vouchers, there needs to be oversight to make sure public and private schools are held to the same standards. Edwards said he expects there will be a lot of amendments proposed when the full Ohio House votes on this version of the budget tomorrow.
Democrats say budget hits their issues too
Democrats in the Ohio House said many of the provisions in this budget are part of what they call their "People First" agenda. House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said that agenda puts the needs of working Ohioans above special interests. Rep. Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus) explained the agenda contains three main elements.
"The People First agenda is built on three incredibly strong pillars that truly defines what it means to have Democratic values, what it means to put people first - freedom, dignity and opportunity," Jarrells said.
But there are elements missing that Democrats want, including comprehensive gun safety regulations and ways to address disparities in minority health care.