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State budget headed for first vote in Legislature



Published: Sat, April 6, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

COLUMBUS

Lawmakers return to the Statehouse next week after a two-week spring break with a full plate of legislation to consume before July 1. The biggest portion is the $63 billion-plus biennial budget, which likely will be amended next week, re-amended the week after that and subjected to a floor vote in the Ohio House shortly thereafter.

And there’s still a couple of months of further deliberations on the two-year spending plan in the Ohio Senate and a conference committee of the two chambers before final passage.

Here are the big-ticket items in the legislation and the direction they could take in coming weeks:

Higher Education: Kasich continues to tout his plan for funding higher education — a first-of-its-kind cooperative effort among two-year colleges and four-year universities, with a portion of outlays based on graduation rates.

I haven’t heard much pushback on this part of the budget bill. Since it’s front and center in most of Kasich’s recent public comments, it’s likely to remain in the legislation.

School Funding: The governor also continues to stump for his primary and secondary school funding reform package, which he says will result in poorer districts receiving more in state funding and no districts receiving less than they have during the current budget cycle.

But critics say the plan shortchanges poorer districts and doesn’t provide nearly enough in state aid for Ohio’s schoolchildren.

The cynic in me thinks lawmakers will simply come up with some more money for local schools and governments to ease the tensions caused by Kasich’s plans rather than doing anything truly radical.

Sales Tax: Though he’s still criticizing the “special interests” that don’t want the state to broaden collections to cover services, Kasich has toned down the rhetoric on his sales tax plan.

And Statehouse Republicans have all but said the sales tax plan is dead. If sales tax provisions are included in the biennial budget, they probably will not look anything like the governor’s initial proposal.

Frack Tax: Kasich has also toned down his comments on a proposed increased to the severance tax on oil and gas produced via horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

He still points out that out-of-state energy companies should be paying more than the handful of pennies per barrel they currently remit to the state, and he maintains that those companies, behind closed doors, are fully supportive of a frack tax increase.

But the governor’s “It will happen” line has turned into “It will happen someday.”

Income Tax Cut: There’s little disagreement between Kasich and Statehouse Republicans about the need to lower the state’s income tax rates.

As introduced, Kasich’s overall tax reform package purportedly would enable a $1.4 billion income tax cut, including a 50 percent cut for small businesses.

During a speech in Cleveland last week, Kasich said his administration has identified at least $700 million that could be used for a small business cut without the sales tax or severance tax proposals.

It’s a safe bet that some type of income tax cut will remain in the House version of the budget.

Medicaid: The governor wants to increase access to health care for needy Ohioans, via a plan to expand Medicaid eligibility as part of President Obama’s signature health care act.

He says the move will enable the state to receive billions in federal funding that would go to other states. And he says people have a moral obligation to reach out to the poor.

Endorsement of Obamacare?

But many Republicans are opposing the eligibility change, saying it amounts to an endorsement of Obamacare, health care mandates and out-of-control federal spending.

The administration is negotiating with federal officials on a proposal that would allow the state to use Medicaid funding to purchase private coverage for certain needy residents.

I think enough Republicans will come around on the Medicaid issue, or Kasich will find another way to implement it without their support.

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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