The two-year $75 billion state budget is awaiting Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature before the fiscal year expires tomorrow. The budget process was led by Republicans, from DeWine’s initial proposal through the House and Senate, which are dominated by the GOP. But a lot of Democrats ended up supporting the final product.
The last budget vote in 2019 was the first bipartisan one in a decade. Twenty of 38 Democrats voted for that budget in the House, and the only "no" vote in the Senate was from a Democrat.
The budget passed this time with more Democratic support, though there are fewer Democrats in the state legislature than in 2019.
Among them was Rep. Dan Troy (D-Willowick), who is on his eighth term in the House. He served seven of them before term limits forced him out in 1996.
“You know, I’ve never voted against a budget bill, because I understand that a budget – the budget is basically the essential document that makes sure that the services of civilization that our state is required to provide continues," Troy said in comments on the House floor.
And he wasn’t alone. Twenty-two House Democrats – two thirds of the caucus – voted with the majority for the Republican-created budget.
Only one of the 89 total Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly voted against the budget – Rep. Bill Dean (R-Xenia).
Rep. Michael O’Brien (D-Warren) said he liked that the budget put $250 million into broadband expansion and $170 million for the Lake Erie cleanup program H2Ohio.
“Let’s not talk about our priorities. Let’s talk about how we will fund our priorities. And this is just that. And I urge passage," O'Brien said.
But for most Democrats who voted for the budget, including Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland), the school funding plan was the reason.
“Having a real formula is bigger than any of us and perhaps bigger than this budget before us," said Sweeney.
The budget conference committee scrapped the Senate school funding proposal and settled on the House’s plan, which Sweeney had been a joint sponsor of when it was House Bill 1. Simply put, it replaces the current way of calculating state aid for public schools with a formula of 60% local property taxes and 40% household income. But the budget does leave the full funding of the plan up to future legislators.
It was the final House vote for Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus), who’s leaving for the Franklin County Commission.
Crawley admitted she had mixed feelings about the budget: because of the $1.6 billion, 3% across the board income tax cut, the lowering of requirements for the Step Up To Quality program for child care providers serving families getting state assistance, the "conscience clause" allowing medical professionals to refuse to provide treatment if it conflicts with their beliefs, and the language that prevents doctors who work with certain abortion providers from working at hospitals that get state dollars.
“Even though I did support this version of the budget in the conference committee, it definitely is not the budget I would have crafted at all. It would have had a more people-focused priority," Crawley said.
Those were some of the issues that had Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) choosing not to press the button that would light up her name in green on the House vote board – indicating a yes vote.
“I’ll be pushing my red button again. Why, you ask? Because the people that we should be keeping at the center of everything that we do here are all of the hard working Ohioans who are too often and who continue to be left behind," Kelly said.
And Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) said she was a "no" because more needs to be done to help Ohio’s growing elderly population and economically disadvantaged kids, especially after the pandemic.
“With that, unfortunately, I am going to strongly urge our colleagues to not agree with the conference report. I know we can do better. I believe Ohioans deserve better," Howse said.
In the Senate, the lone no vote was from Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) – who also went solo with that one "no" vote on the budget in the Senate in 2019.
Fedor didn't comment on the floor, but said in an statement she’s concerned the budget doesn’t commit to fully funding schools and leaves a lot to future lawmakers, and she’s angry about the language to expand charter schools and the state-paid voucher program.
Although I supported some changes made to the Senate version of the budget, there were outstanding issues that I still could not support.https://t.co/BdRzuhkce7
— State Senator Teresa Fedor (@teresa_fedor) June 29, 2021
In an interview, Fedor said she was caught off guard by her Democratic colleagues.
“Yes, I'm very surprised we didn't have Democrats looking at the totality of the budget. And of course, we always in the minority party have a very short window to digest this," Fedor said. "But, you know, there's a lot of public policy that was inserted into the budget that has nothing to do with the budget.”
While 29 of the 43 Democratic state lawmakers voted for the budget, the Ohio Democratic Party is speaking out against it.
A party statement said the budget “includes several toxic provisions inserted by extreme Republicans who are using the budget process to play politics with the welfare of working Ohioans.” The statement goes on to say Gov. Mike DeWine has "caved" to those "extremists" and has been "too weak" to stand up to them.
It urges DeWine to veto the tax cut, language on vouchers and charter schools, the medical conscience clause and the abortion access provision – which Democrats who voted to support the budget are also calling on him to veto.