By Marc Kovac
The Ohio Senate signed off on its version of a $61 billion-plus, two-year spending plan Thursday.
The biennial budget legislation now goes back to the Ohio House and to a conference committee to hash out a final bill to be signed into law by the end of the month. The state’s new fiscal year begins July 1.
The Senate vote was a party line 23-10, with Republican members supporting and Democrats opposing.
The result came after nearly eight hours of debate that included numerous roll-call votes, voice votes and votes taken by counting the number of proponents and opponents standing at their chairs.
Republican Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said the legislation illus-trates GOP members’ desire to boost job and economic opportunities for all Ohioans.
“There were a lot of amendments that we considered that we didn’t accept because we didn’t think it moved us toward jobs and the economy,” he told reporters afterward. “The Senate’s No. 1 priority was looking at ways we could streamline and make government more efficient, particularly as it allows Ohioans to get better jobs.”
But Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney, D-Cincinnati, said the budget “lacks vision.”
“There is still unfinished business as we have failed to adequately provide funding to support our children, strengthen our communities, provide for the health of Ohioans, and demand accountability,” he said in a released statement.
The version OK’d Thursday was much changed from the executive budget proposed by Gov. John Kasich months ago.
Still missing from the legislation is the governor’s proposed expansion of Medicaid eligibility, with lawmakers saying they need more time to consider the issue.
He said, however, he did not expect the eligibility expansion, as proposed by Kasich, to ultimately be adopted.
Senators also focused their tax-reform efforts on a cut directed at small businesses rather than the across-the-board 7 percent reduction for all taxpayers passed by the Ohio House.
“Our budget contains $1.4 billion in tax relief for small businesses, the engine of our economy,” said Sen. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton, noting that the proposed 50-percent tax cut on the first $750,000 of net income “will free up significant capital for small businesses to invest, expand, maintain payroll or add to payroll. This is a tax cut designed to kick-start economic growth.”
The House removed Kasich’s frack-tax plan, and the Senate followed suit.
“The House pretty much took the severance-tax issue off the table,” Faber said.
The GOP-controlled chamber also revamped the state’s school funding formula, with backers saying it provided the biggest increase in basic state-aid in a decade or more and critics saying it does far too little.
But Democrats criticized the key components of the budget, saying tax cuts amounted to a “huge tax giveaway” that would not result in significant job growth, and the indecision on Medicaid will hurt the state’s neediest residents.
Democrats attempted a number of amendments, including one that would have provided $68 million in grant funding for school-safety improvements, including installing new doors and locks and hiring security guards.
Sponsoring Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, said funding provided for such expenses in the budget was inadequate.
Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, offered another amendment to provide $50 million for workforce training for the oil-and-gas industry, establish a tax credit for small businesses that create jobs, and establish a micro- loan program for small businesses wanting to expand.
Most of the amendments failed on party-line votes, though Schiavoni did successfully add language to provide $150,000 for the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngs-town State University.