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Senate budget passes with no Democratic support. Now Ohio lawmakers will have to compromise

 Ohio Senate votes on budget
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Senate votes on budget

The Republican-dominated Ohio Senate passed a $94 billion, two-year state budget along party lines, with all seven Democrats voting against it.

The Senate budget is different than the House plan, which was changed from Gov. Mike DeWine’s initial proposal. So a new fight lies ahead.

Senate Republicans say their spending plan includes $3.1 billion in tax relief, but they said it’s a responsible budget.It also includes some controversial changes when it comes to education.

One provision expands the state’s EdChoice school voucher program significantly so nearly every child who goes to a private school can get some sort of tuition assistance.But it reduces the amount of the voucher for people making over 450% of the federal poverty level, which is $135,000 for a family of four.

The Senate budget also funds the school financing proposal passed two years ago that's designed to reduce reliance on local property taxes. But it took away financial guarantees to some school districts that Republicans say aren't part of that plan.

State Sen. Andy Brenner (R-Delaware) said those guarantees should not have been provided to school districts in the past because it essentially paid them for students they weren’t teaching. He likes the education changes in this budget, including one that takes power from the state school board and gives it to lawmakers and the governor, which had passed the chamber earlier this year as Senate Bill 1.

“This is a highly transformative budget. It gets back to the basics where we need to be from an education standpoint,” Brenner said.

Another addition is the controversial higher education bill sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland). Senate Bill 83 would ban most diversity and education training and affirmative action practices along with faculty strikes, and would define specific issues that must be presented with what it calls "intellectual diversity." Those include electoral politics, marriage and abortion.

“It provides greater economic freedom by not preventing those who have differing opinions from presenting those opinions and discussing them in the economic environment,” Cirino said.

On the other side of the aisle, state Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) viewed the addition of Senate Bill 83 as “sticking the middle finger to students.” And he said many of the education policies added in the senate plan were actually part of bills that the House doesn’t support.

“I mean it is obvious why these are in the budget. It’s because these bills weren’t making any progress in the other chamber,” DeMora said.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said there were good reasons to put bills about policy in this budget, including the controversial higher ed bill.

“These are much needed reforms. If we don’t do this, this is a bill that might go to the fall, maybe there would be hearings and maybe there wouldn’t, and oh by the way, there’s an earlier primary this year so nobody is going to come back to work in January and it sort of goes by the wayside,” Huffman said.

Another big difference among the budgets revolves around tax policy. Republican Senators merged the House's three income tax brackets into two and cut the state's main business tax, the commercial activity tax. By the end of the budget, 90% of Ohio businesses will no longer pay the CAT.

But Democrats said it doesn't do much for lower-income Ohioans. Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) wanted a refundable earned income tax credit, which would give money back to families at the bottom of the economic scale, but she said majority Republicans answered with an expansion of the existing back-to-school sales tax holiday in August from one week to two.

“But you have to have money to spend to buy anything to get any kind of tax benefit. And at the same time, the upper levels are really getting the best benefit,” Antonio said.

The next step in the budget battle is taken by the House. It’s likely the plan will end up in conference committee, where changes will likely be made. But Huffman said he thinks a lot of the provisions could stay intact.

“This is a solid conservative budget and the House – there’s 67 Republicans there,” Huffman said.

But the GOP-dominated House has been mired in a power struggle this year between House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and his rival for speaker, Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township). And because of that, Democrats have had more political sway in that chamber. All but two Democrats in the House supported that chamber's budget in April.

(Note: this story has been corrected to note that 450% of the federal poverty level is $135,000 for a family of four.)

Contact Jo Ingles at