A $62 billion, two-year state budget now awaits Gov. John Kasich’s signature — and possible line-item vetos — after clearing both chambers of the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature on Thursday.
Kasich, a Republican, and his staff have until Sunday to sign the budget into law. Because it’s a budget bill, he can veto individual line items he doesn’t like.
The budget has gone through numerous changes since Kasich introduced his “Jobs Budget 2.0” plan in February. Legislators took out certain aspects of Kasich’s plan, but reintroduced some elements in subsequent revisions.
The budget’s final tax plan cuts taxes by a net $2.7 billion over three years through a mix of income tax cuts for individuals and businesses, while increasing sales tax rates by 0.25 percent and applying that tax to online sales and magazine subscriptions that are not currently taxed.
The budget pays for the tax cuts by ending the state’s contribution toward property owners’ taxes on local property levies, and ending a $2,450 tax credit on the first $1 million in gross receipts for businesses that pay the Commercial Activity Tax, and setting varying minimum amounts for those businesses. The bill also adds a means test for future senior citizens to claim the homstead exemption on their property taxes.
“Between now and Sunday evening, our guys are going to be poring over this,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols, who added further comment from the governor on the budget will come Friday.
Besides major policy initiatives, legislators also tucked into the budget dozens of amendments on topics including abortion, alcohol-laced foods, speed limits and spider monkeys.
State legislators mostly voted down party lines on the budget, although seven House Republicans, including local Reps. John Adams, of Sidney and Ross McGregor, of Springfield, joined all Democrats in voting against the bill.
Republicans praised the budget, saying it gives Ohioans back $2.7 billion over three years via tax cuts while increasing K-12 school funding by $1 billion over two years, among other changes.
“All things considered, this budget is about opportunity,” said Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina. “This is the second chapter in Ohio’s road to recovery. The last budget (in 2011) put us back on track, and this one moves us forward.”
Democrats said the tax changes will disproportionately benefit the rich while doing little or nothing to help the poor and the middle class, and the budget fails to restore 2011 cuts in state funding to local governments.
“This budget sets the wrong priorities for Ohio and demonstrates a profound failure of leadership by both Governor Kasich and the legislative majority,” said Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens.
Democrats also decried Republican budget amendments that imposed additional restrictions on abortions while declining to act to expand Medicaid eligibility to 275,000 additional Ohioans.
Greeted at the legislative chamber doors by heightened security measures, dozens of protesters from groups in favor of abortion rights watched hours of budget debates Thursday. They demonstrated in the morning against two abortion-related budget amendments: one sends Planned Parenthood to the back of the line for federal family planning dollars, and another prohibits public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with clinics that provide abortions.
Republicans on a budget committee earlier this week also added in a measure that requires doctors performing abortions to first detect a fetal heartbeat, and to provide the pregnant woman with that information and the probability of bringing the fetus to full term.
After sitting mostly silently in the gallery, the protesters disrupted Senate proceedings immediately after senators voted to approve the budget bill, 21-11.
“Shame on you!” they shouted in several times before leaving the chamber without incident.
Republicans mostly stayed away from defending the abortion provisions Thursday, but Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, brought the issue up while debate wrapped up in the House.
Amstutz said he was disappointed in references from Democrats, who invoked the phrase “whatever you do to one of the least of these,” a biblical passage in which Jesus Christ refers to treatment of the poor, to criticize Republican budget priorities.
“Because who is the ‘least of these’ more than an unborn child?” Amstutz said.
Cuyhoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a likely Democratic challenger to Kasich in 2014, will travel to Columbus today to discuss the state budget, according to a press release.
Kasich will also speak publicly today about the budget, alongside Faber and House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, at an event held at the official governor’s mansion in Bexley.