Lawmakers left town a few weeks back for their summer recess, and you could almost hear the sighs of relief from them and their staffers after the biennial state budget was signed, sealed and delivered.
But many must wake up in cold sweats in the middle of the night, thinking about what’s on the legislative horizon.
And I’m not talking about Medicaid expansion, the ever-present issue of the day that GOP leaders have pledged to tackle before the end of the year.
No, the topic that should be causing nightmares is the potential for a second mid-biennium review, essentially another massive package of budget proposals and policy changes offered during what’s supposed to be a quiet legislative session in the months before a heated general election.
Gov. John Kasich offered his first MBR last year, much to the chagrin of some state lawmakers who had grown accustomed to less strenuous sessions in off-budget years.
Two-year spending plans mean late-night meetings and lengthy public hearings and even lengthier behind-closed-doors horse trading. The $62 billion budget passed by lawmakers in late June and signed into law before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 was no different, with ample debate and public discourse.
During the final floor debate before signing off on the conference committee report, the ultimate budget bill sent to Kasich for his signature and enacted into law, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle voiced concern about the amount of policy change included in the spending plan.
Budgets are supposed to be about how public funds are spent, not packed full of hundreds of provisions with little relation to appropriations, they said. Something needs to be done to separate spending talks from policy talks, they said.
It’s not a stretch to think lawmakers were trying to send a message to the governor about future budgets and off-year budget reviews.
It’s also not a stretch to think lawmakers must be shaking in their boots wondering about the latter, which could keep them in Columbus for prolonged deliberations next year, when they would rather be back home in their districts, raising campaign cash and working to persuade the electorate to send them back to the Statehouse for another term.
The 2012 session was a marathon, with lawmakers passing Kasich’s MBR and legislation related to dangerous, wild animals, human trafficking, collateral sanctions, sweepstakes parlors and Lake Erie, among other issues.
And the governor has indicated there’s a lot more policy and law change to come.
During a budget-related press conference earlier this month, Kasich told employees in the state’s Office of Budget and Management to take some time off, enjoy their families and recharge their batteries.
But he also said there’s lots more work to do.
“I want you to rest,” the governor said. “Because we have a number of additional items that we are in the early stages that we’re working on to continue to move the state forward.”
He added, “Don’t think we’re just going to rest and slide. We’re going to be even more aggressive in order to keep moving Ohio where we want it to go.”