Ohio lawmakers have no excuse for budget inaction


Columbus Dispatch: With the possible exception of high-priced lobbyists who bill by the hour, no one wins when state lawmakers can’t meet deadlines for passing important legislation.

Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often that legislators are unable to agree on a spending plan for state government. The Legislature’s failure to pass a final version of House Bill 166 by the time the previous two-year budget expired at midnight on Sunday was just the third time that has happened in almost three decades.

RECORD OF 133rd GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Unfortunately, it is not the first time since the 133rd Ohio General Assembly was seated in January that state representatives and senators have missed their deadline on a major spending plan. The state transportation budget had a March 31 deadline, but agreement was not reached on House Bill 62 by both chambers until April 3.

And for the trifecta, the Legislature also missed a deadline Sunday for passing a separate budget for the state’s employer-funded Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Current spending will continue under a 30-day budget passed to allow more time to decide if first responders can collect disability pay for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In March, as now, tax issues were a sticking point, and it is somewhat understandable that lawmakers can have trouble finding common ground on an issue with as much voter sensitivity as taxes. If lawmakers suffered extra heartburn at Monday’s reminder of their last budget impasse – as new state taxes on gasoline rose 10.5 cents – it was of their own doing.

It’s harder to comprehend how two legislative chambers controlled by the same Republican Party – and working with a Republican chief executive in Gov. Mike DeWine – can fail to hammer out budget details to meet a deadline they all should have been aware of even before taking office.

TEMPORARY BUDGET OK’D

Unlike the shameful 35-day federal government partial shutdown in December and January when Congress couldn’t agree on spending and immigration issues, at least the Legislature ensured no halt of state services with a temporary budget to continue current spending levels through July 17.

To encourage closure on some of the reported sticking points in HB 166, The Dispatch editorial board reiterates our view on certain provisions.

We prefer House language to reduce a $1.2 billion tax credit for pass-through business income, by lowering from $250,000 to $100,000 the income which could be tax-free. The Senate and DeWine favor keeping it intact.

We also favor House funding for wraparound social services in schools to help youth at risk of failure due to issues including trauma, parental addiction and poverty. The House added $125 million to $550 million requested by DeWine but the Senate shifted the House bonus to help wealthier suburban schools address enrollment growth.

We discourage the Legislature from including certain policy provisions in the budget that should not be rushed, including to reform a process for state takeover of school districts with failing scores on academic performance measures. Hastily passed legislation created the current system that many agree is not working.

Lawmakers also missed a deadline set by FirstEnergy Solutions to reach agreement by Sunday on House Bill 6, legislation to bail out two nuclear power plants and two coal-fired power plants with a $1.80 monthly fee on all Ohio electric utility customers.

Letting that bill die would be the right move at this point.

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