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Senate to vote on $61B Ohio budget today

Plan to increase vehicle registration fee removed by committee.

The Ohio Senate plans to vote today on a more than $61 billion two-year state budget after making hundreds of changes this week to the version passed by the House in April.

The Senate Finance Committee made a few more changes on Wednesday before approving it without the support of the Democrats on the panel. The committee’s chairman Sen. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton, said the budget focuses on job creation, shown through more money for K-12 education and a 50 percent income tax cut up to $375,000 for business owners and pass-through entities.

“Our whole goal this whole budget cycle has been a job creation budget,” Oelslager said. “Job creation is the number one priority of the people of Ohio. If a person has a job they’re likely in pretty good shape.”

Wednesday’s changes included removing the 2 percent vehicle registration fee increase and adding a new tax on motor vehicle fuel receipts to replace the commercial activity tax. Sen. Bill Coley, R-West Chester, said the new tax would in effect be revenue neutral and fuel companies agreed to the change.

Last year, the Ohio Supreme Court decided the state could not use revenue from the CAT collected on fuel for anything other than highway and road improvement. The change puts that money — $140 million a year — back into the general revenue fund.

The general revenue fund is the state’s main pot of money to pay for Ohio’s public schools, colleges and universities, law enforcement, health services and other public services.

The Senate plan includes:

* $717 million more in direct aid to school districts than the current budget;

* a $1.4 billion tax cut for pass-through entities;

* new K-12 and higher education funding formulas;

* a slew of earmarks and other provisions requested by individual lawmakers.

Democrats said the budget shortchanges women, schools and communities. Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, said that investing in those groups would help Ohio’s economy and the best way to do that would be to expand Medicaid, the state- and federally-funded health insurance program for poor and disabled people, to 275,000 Ohioans.

“I’m very hopeful this is not the end of this discussion and we will move forward,” Sawyer said.

GOP senators rejected Democrats’ attempts to remove language targeting family planning clinics that offer abortive services. One provision puts centers that only offer family-planning services at the end of the line to receive federal family planning dollars and the other provision prohibits ambulatory surgical facilities that perform or induce abortions from having patient transfer agreements — required by law — with public hospitals.

Abortion rights groups said both measures would force some clinics to close. Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, called the legislation “paternalistic and controlling government” not necessary in women’s lives.

Democrats also failed to pass amendments adding more money to K-12 education and food banks.

The House is unlikely to agree with all the changes made by the Senate, so members from both chambers will start working out differences in the bill as early as next week before sending it to the governor for his signature before June 30.

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