Ohio Senate OKs $56B budget

Associated Press


State senators voted Tuesday to approve Ohio’s nearly $56 billion, two-year state budget bill, a far-reaching collection of policy changes that would privatize state operations, overhaul Medicaid, limit unions, ban most abortions at public hospitals and provide tax breaks on investments, income and estates.

The sweeping spending blueprint, strongly influenced by new Republican Gov. John Kasich, emerged from compromise talks between the GOP-controlled House and Senate shortly before midnight Monday. In last-minute changes, lawmakers voted to allow private oversight of the Ohio Turnpike but not the Ohio Lottery and added provisions tying pay for teachers to a new evaluation system to be developed by the state Education Department.

The Senate voted 22-11 in favor of the final bill. A House vote is scheduled for today, and Kasich is expected to sign by the Thursday deadline.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Republican state senator and budget committee member Shannon Jones said she was moved to speak about the voluminous policy document.

“I was really overcome with the pure volume of work that this budget entails,” she said.

State Sen. Mike Skindell of Lakewood, the budget committee’s ranking Democrat, said, “Sen. Jones said she was overcome. I will say that many Ohioans will be overcome by the devastating impact that this budget will have on their lives.”

Kasich has dubbed the legislation his “jobs budget” and touts the fact that it cuts taxes while closing a budget gap estimated at $8 billion when he took office in January. Improved state revenues have put the gap closer to $6 billion.

“Many doubted that this could ever be done, but together we’re doing it,” Kasich has said.

Senate Finance Chairman Chris Widener, a Springfield Republican, said the bill eliminates a structural deficit caused by years of spending more than the state had available, ending years of using one-time fixes to balance the budget.

“The families in Ohio, the small businesses in Ohio understand this,” he told fellow senators. “You’ve got to stop the one-time spending and put a little bit back for the next rainy day around the corner.”

Labor unions hit hard by many of its provisions — including those that impose a merit pay system on teachers, suspend prevailing wage requirements at public construction jobs, and allow privatization of five state-run prisons and the Turnpike — have blasted the bill as anti-jobs.

“The final agreement on Gov. Kasich’s jobs-killing budget, worked out by conference committee last night, is the icing on the cake of Kasich’s destructive and unpopular partisan agenda,” Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said Tuesday. “The pain from this budget will be felt by working families and the middle class in every corner of the state.”

A six-member bipartisan panel approved the bill Monday in a 4-2 vote along party lines. Hundreds of changes were made in a hearing that lasted for more than six hours, including about $100 million more for nursing homes, in-home care for the elderly, mental-health and drug- addiction services and expanded rights for privately run charter schools.

Some significant changes in Ohio’s nearly $56 billion, two-year state budget proposal:

Repeals estate tax

Privatizes five state prisons: Lake Erie, Grafton, North Coast, and North Central correctional facilities and the vacated youth prison in Grafton

Provides for lease of the Ohio Turnpike to a private operator

Eliminates required use on public improvements of the multiple-prime contracting method, in which separate contracts are awarded for each portion of a construction job

Modifies state’s prevailing union wage law and lifts the requirement to pay union-scale wages on certain public jobs

Prohibits hospitals and other facilities receiving state funds from performing elective abortions

Provides tax credits for investors in Ohio businesses

Expands eligibility for Choose Ohio First college scholarships for residents who attend Ohio colleges and universities

Requires state chancellor to develop a plan for designating public colleges and universities as charter universities

Prohibits employees of a community school from collectively bargaining under certain circumstances

Requires school districts receiving Race to the Top federal grant money to move to performance-based pay for teachers beginning in the 2013-14 school year

Requires school districts receiving Race to the Top money to adopt a teacher evaluation policy by July 1, 2013

Gives preference to seniority in teacher layoffs and re-hirings only when teachers have comparable evaluations

Requires completion of state government reorganization plan by June 30, 2013

Source: Ohio Legislative Service Commission

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