Grins and grimaces over Ohio's stalled 2-year budget

Michele Murphy

Let's start with some basics: Ohio law requires the state legislature to pass a budget every two years. It must be passed by both the House and Senate by June 30. It also mandates that the budget be balanced, so no deficit spending.

Ohio has no budget. House members raced back to Columbus June 30 to pass a 17-day stop- gap budget passed the evening before by the Senate. It ends July 17.

Some are scratching their heads while others are fuming that the Republican governor and Republican-dominated House and Senate could not get on the same page to pass a budget on time.

Well, it's not a page. It's more than 3,500 pages. By comparison, the Mueller Report is 400.

The proposed budget is a whopping $69 billion.

Senate leader Larry Obhof (R-Medina) says there are 590 "sticking points" to work out.

Here are a few examples:

The General Assembly wants to give individuals a tax break. The House passed a bill that includes a 6.6% cut while the Senate passed a bill with an 8% cut. I saw a chart indicating the difference in those amounts for a person earning $30,000 a year is $1.18.

There is bickering over a tax break for individuals who treat business income as personal income, including those with sole proprietorships or limited-liability corporations. The Senate wants to keep the current "tax-free" benefit for the first $250,000 of income while the House wants it reduced to $100,000. The current benefit costs the state $1.2 billion in lost tax revenue.

Small businesses currently get a $250,000 tax credit originally intended to help them expand and hire. The House wants it reduced to $100,000. The governor told legislators to pull the measure from the budget and introduce separate legislation so the budget can get passed.

Oh, there's more. It gets confusing because separate legislation is funded through the budget.

In other words, laws are passed but are not funded until the budget bill passes.

House Bill 7, one I would hope everyone in our area cares deeply about, creates water-quality protection and preservation programs for Lake Erie and other water bodies in Ohio. It passed the House. It doesn't appear to be going anywhere in the Senate and is a budget sticking point since it creates a trust fund for H2Ohio.

House Bill 6 would provide big taxpayer dollars to save two flailing nuclear plants. It passed the House but it is held up in the Senate. Many do not understand why plant owner FirstEnergy Solutions, now in bankruptcy, refuses to provide financial documents to elected representatives. As one said to me, "How do we know if they need the money, or how much, if we have no financial documents to review?" For now, it is held up in the Senate by a flurry of amendments added to the House-passed version, necessitating more time for review and holding up the budget.

House Bill 70, passed in 2015, allowed the state to take over school districts that received "F" grades on state report cards. It has not worked well and this session's HB 154 would kill HB70. It's passed the House, but the Senate does not feel it has sufficient teeth. So it sits.

Major revisions in school funding formulas, mental health support services for schools, suicide prevention programs, high school graduation requirements, "surprise billings" from health insurance companies, and more, face adjustments or possible elimination as the House and Senate wrangle.

Well, at least they managed to agree that a government shutdown would not fly.

Michele Murphy is a freelance writer in Avon Lake.

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