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Biennial budget OK'd by lawmaker panel May 1

Some say budget not yet ready to leave the House

By MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Chief Published: May 2, 2017 1:36 PM

COLUMBUS -- Lawmakers would have greater control over Medicaid spending for Ohio's expanded-eligibility population, under the biennial operating budget OK'd by a lawmaker panel May 1.

HB 49 passed the Ohio House's Finance Committee on a split vote of 23-9, with Democratic members objecting.

"We had hours and hours and hours of testimony, which is hard to do at times," said Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell), who heads the Finance Committee, said just before the committee vote. "But I think this budget reflects a lot of different ideas that people have, and considering the number of amendments offered I'd say that everybody had an opportunity and have their fingerprints all over this bill."

Democrats called for increased funding for efforts to combat drug addiction and for solidified Medicaid coverage for needy residents, among other initiatives. They also questioned whether Republicans had actually cut $800 million in spending from the version proposed by the governor.

Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) said she could identify only $360 million in cuts, leaving $400 million-plus still to tackle.

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"We're short as it relates to this budget," she said. "Maybe I'm wrong, maybe you have $800 million worth of cuts. I could not find it There's a lot of unknowns and moving parts to this I don't think this budget is ready to leave the House."

Smith took issue with "this whole notion of is the money there," saying the budget process is proceeding as it usually does, with estimates changing as lawmakers approach the end of the current fiscal year.

"I fell very good about the trajectory," he said. "We're trying to get in position to where we restrain growth so that when we get into conference committee and we reconcile the numbers in conference committee that we're not going to be far off."

He added, "I feel very good about this budget as far as where we're at, where we're headed. We're going to work with our friends in the Senate and make sure that we come up with the best combination of their ideas, our ideas and try to get this thing landed."

The Ohio House is set to vote on the amended budget during its session today.

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Republican made dozens of changes to the legislation Monday, including language giving lawmakers additional oversight over Medicaid spending for programs for the expanded population covered under changes implemented by Gov. John Kasich's administration.

Among other amendments OK'd as part of the Republican-backed omnibus:

Lawmakers added $1 million to reimburse counties for the cost of replacing aging voting equipment.

They removed language, added last week, that would have given probate courts broad authority over park districts. The original amendment drew concern from Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) and others.

"This amendment presented a danger to a citizen's right to freely speak out against a governmental board," Boccieri said in a released statement Monday evening. "It created a situation where the appointing authority was the 'specialty court' for matters affecting the park board, which is a clear conflict of interest. It was only through public outcry that this language was removed."

The omnibus amendment included a provision blocking the state tax department "from taking any action to subject something to taxation that [the agency] had not considered part of the tax within three years of the effective date of the tax."

The amended budget still paves the way for the sale of former state prison farms but would require a competitive process for the transfers.

Another provision would allow counties to raise local, piggyback sales tax rates in increments of 0.05 percent, instead of the current 0.25 percent.

Among earmarks added to the two-year spending plan was a $500,000 capital appropriation for the Wayne County Regional Training Facility and another $1 million ($500,000 per fiscal year) for Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center by $500,000 per year.

In a preview of today's full House session, Democrats on the Finance Committee offered more than two dozen of their own amendments, seeking to increase funding to combat drug addiction and to local governments, to codify the expanded Medicaid-eligible population, and to require increased disclosure of chemicals used in horizontal hydraulic fracturing, among other suggested changes.

Republicans tabled most of the amendments offered by Democrats, though they accepted several, including one increasing funding for efforts to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

The Ohio Senate already is playing host to hearings on the legislation, and there will be other changes between now and when Kasich adds his signature before July 1, the start of the new state fiscal year.

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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