Any time now, the legislature may pass a state budget

This new week, Ohio’s Republican-run General Assembly might – might – pass a state operating budget for the period ending June 30, 2021. Legislators missed last weekend’s deadline. Result: They passed a temporary budget to fund state agencies through July 17.

Same goes for the separate Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation budget. Legislators passed a temporary budget to operate the bureau through July 31. The non-partisan Legislative Service Commission explains one House-Senate roadblock this way:

The Ohio House’s workers’ comp budget “makes a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical worker … diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) eligible to receive (workers’) compensation … regardless of whether (he or she) suffers an accompanying physical injury.” But the Senate’s version doesn’t do that. You might want to ask your state senator about that the next time she or he claims to support Ohio’s first responders.

Also still pending: The nuclear power plant bailout (HB 6). That make-or-break June 30 deadline set by the nuke plants’ owner, FirstEnergy Solutions, was rigid as a Slinky. Doesn’t matter. The bill will pass. Keep your checkbook handy.

In the House, the proposed operating budget (HB 166) was introduced March 25. The House passed it 45 days later, on May 9. The Senate passed its version 43 days later, on June 20. In 2017, the House-Senate interval was 50 days.

Timing aside, at every stage of budget haggling, the Legislative Service Commission documents every change. Bottom line: A General Assembly member who claims he or she doesn’t know what’s in a budget hasn’t – big surprise – taken the time to read LSC analyses, which are publicly available.

When, as this year, the House and Senate pass different versions of a budget, they appoint a six-member conference committee (three senators, three representatives) to write a compromise.

That’s what a budget conference may do this week, assuming the Powers That Be have gotten over one purported squabble: Whether to use the wording of the House-passed budget or the wording of the Senate-passed budget as the conference committee’s starting point. If legislators really did get their Dockers in a bunch over that, here’s the history: Since at least 2003, budget conferees have started their haggling with the Senate-passed versions of budget bills (that’s documented) and for at least 20 years before that, too (that’s memory).

Two factors may figure in prickly Senate-House relations. One was the needling House Speaker Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican, gave Senate Republicans in March – “put on your big-boy pants … pull your binky out of your mouth … you’ve got to make tough decisions” – when GOP senators dithered over a gas-tax increase that Republican Gov. Mike DeWine wanted and which the House had passed. Legislators eventually agreed to boost Ohio’s gas tax by 10.5 cents a gallon (for diesel fuel, by 19 cents a gallon). The tax increases took effect Monday, July 1.

But as to the (un-passed) operating budget, it appears “tax cuts” –headline words every Ohio pol wants voters to see – are stoking genuine Senate-House differences. DeWine didn’t call for tax cuts. But the House initiated some. Then the Senate initiated more.

And tax cuts have done such wonders for Ohio’s economy. In 1985, when Statehouse medicine-show barkers first touted tax cuts, Ohio’s per capita personal income was 95.6 percent of average U.S. per capita income. By 2018, after more grandstanding tax cuts, Ohio’s per capita personal income was 89.82 percent of the U.S. average, according to the U.S. Regional Economic Analysis Project. That’s what 35 years of tax cut bluster and budget ballyhoo have accomplished for Ohioans. 

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