The Ohio House of Representatives Thursday took a long recess break from their morning session, as Republicans worked on the final amendments to Gov. John R. Kasich’s Jobs 2.0 budget bill. It took until late evening, after all but one Democratic amendment had been rejected, that 61 yea votes versus 35 nay votes were recorded.
The bill moves next to the Senate where hearings have already started.
Tired from their long day, Members were feted mid-evening to pizza supplied by an unidentified benefactor as Majority Republicans swatted down one Democratic amendment after another. Several potential Democratic statewide candidates offered amendments that gave them an opportunity to make political points on issues that will be factors in next year’s campaigns. The parties spent the day jousting on education, health care and economic development policies and programs and the role and responsibility of government versus that of private business. It served as a clear example of the wide chasm that exists between them.
Republicans regained control of the House in 2010, the year of the Tea Party movement, and expanded their margin to supermajority last year even though President Obama won Ohio for the second time. The GOP has controlled the Senate since 1984.
“Building upon Governor Kasich’s recommendations and his vision for a more prosperous Ohio, the House has crafted and passed a transformative budget that we believe prioritizes the issues that matter most to Ohioans,” Speaker Batchelder said in prepared remarks. “We have taken sound steps toward ensuring that this budget is fiscally responsible, sustainable, and provides vital services for Ohioans who need them.”
The Speaker said House Finance and Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Ron Amstutz and Vice Chairman McClain produced a product that pursues a comprehensive, forward-thinking tack that addresses current issues.
Following the vote, Kasich Press Secretary Rob Nichols issued this statement: “We are pleased that the House backed away from its initial position and has listened to the governor and many, many others who have clearly demonstrated the advantages to businesses, Ohio’s economic recovery and the health of our state of providing health care to low-income, working Ohioans. The process continues, and the Governor is totally committed to extending health coverage to people who are battling mental illness and addiction, 26,000 veterans and other Ohioans for whom health care is a ladder up and out of poverty. We look forward to continuing our work with the House and Senate on this issue and to advancing the rest of our Medicaid and health-system reforms, which have already improved care and saved $2 billion.”
The bill was called bipartisan even though only one Democrat of 39, John Barnes, Jr. of Cleveland, voted for it. Speaker Batchelder’s office described it as a “comprehensive state operating budget that provides crucial assistance to schools and community programs, while at the same time reducing the burden on Ohio’s taxpayers.”
The bill—Amended Substitute House Bill 59—provides Ohioans with a $1.5 billion state income tax cut over the next two years, also ensures that none of Ohio’s school districts will receive less state aid than they did in FY 2013, increases funding for special education, mental health services and addiction services, and takes significant steps to make higher education more affordable.
An amendment to transform Medicaid and Ohio’s health care delivery system, that requires the director of the Governor’s Office of Health Transformation and the director of Medicaid to submit to the General Assembly a proposal to reform Medicaid, was adopted.
One Tea Party official at the Statehouse today said he wishes the fight was over, but unfortunately that is not the case. Ted Stevenot, President of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, cautioned supporters that special interests are still “salivating over the prospects of getting their hands on $13 billion of new ‘federal’ money.” He reminded Tea Party minded conservatives that Medicaid funds are flowing “from a federal government that is already broke and that has no business adding to its obligations.”
Rep. Amstutz said the budget plan reflects Ohio’s recovering economy. Additional resources are being allocated back to our communities in three main areas, he said, naming additional health care for the poor, additional money for schools, and additional taxpayer relief. Chairman Amstutz applauded his committee for finding a good balance between “keeping our state government costs affordable and maintaining the services that many Ohioans rely on.”
The bill includes a focus on moving certain individuals off Medicaid and onto an employer-sponsored health insurance or the health insurance marketplace, implementing strategies to lower Medicaid caseloads by offering workforce readiness, educational services and wellness services and seeking to lower the net state and federal costs for the Medicaid program and reduce the number of individuals who enroll in Medicaid over time.
Close to 4PM, House Speaker William G. Batchelder gaveled the afternoon session to order. The long delay, sources said, gave Majority Party Republicans time to figure out their next move on how to tackle the politically charged issue surrounding the opt-in expansion of Medicaid coverage as provided in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last summer that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is Constitutional.
Gov. Kasich made a decision to go along with it even though argues so-called Obamacare is flawed and the wrong way to approach the issue of low-income Ohioans, many of whom are children, accessing and receiving medical care.
Dayton Democratic Rep. Fred Strahorn opposed the budget, saying it’s gone from bad to worse. He said it fell “woefully shot in education and Medicaid … and missed the boat” on lost opportunity. He reminded Republicans and Democrats alike that the Ohio Constitution speaks clearly to the role the state has in a statewide education program. Sixteen years after the DeRolfe case, he said, both parties were guilty of “malfeasance.” He also took issue with tax cuts, which he said was tax shifting from poorer to richer communities. Consumers need to be broad and strong, he said, noting economics isn’t driven by tax cuts but by demand.
Former Democratic House Speaker Armond Budish spoke to oppose the budget. He said the amendment adopted to study Medicaid is better than doing nothing, “but not much better.” Gov. Kasich made the right decision, he said, because hearts should be open to those in need. Mocking the dependence on Medicaid argument Republicans make, he said an expansion of Medicaid would prevent dependence. “Examine your conscience and do the right thing today.”
Chairman Amstutz offered an amendment that was adopted that removed sex education language from this bill so it could be taken up in a separate bill. Insertion of sex education content language and the punish fines that a teacher could be subjected to if parents of children in that class chose to sue provided Democrats with a demonstration of how radical this Republican House could be.
Other hot button issues like religious freedom, JobsOhio, prevailing wage and public transit, among others, were addressed via amendments throughout the session.
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