COLUMBUS — The Ohio House gave broad, bipartisan support to a new two-year, $68.9 billion operating budget on Thursday, sending the policy-laden measure to the Ohio Senate for further changes.
Prior to the 85-9 vote, an expression of bipartisanship not usually seen with budget bills, the House pulled out a controversial Medicaid provision known as Healthy Ohio. The removal came after Democrats objected, arguing it would hurt low-income recipients by charging new fees to thousands of Medicaid recipients and strip certain benefits from those who miss payments.
The plan was stripped from the two-year state budget less than 24 hours after it was added by the Republican-led House Finance Committee.
Local representatives Bob Cupp, R-Lima; Jon Cross, R-Kenton; Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon and Susan Manchester, R-Waynesfield, all voted in favor of the budget. State Rep. Craig Riedel, R-Defiance, voted no.
The so-called Healthy Ohio plan would have impacted more than 1 million poor and disabled Ohioans who rely on the tax-funded health insurance, including more than 100,000 in Franklin County.
It was similar to a proposal a few years ago by Ohio officials, which was rejected by federal regulators in 2016.
Advocates for the poor complained the renewed effort would punish poor Ohioans and restrict optional services — including prescription drugs, mental health services and dental care — for those who don’t pay monthly premiums.
House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said the proposal was a late addition, and he expects it will be worked out as separate legislation. A bipartisan group reportedly is being formed to work on the measure.
The budget is a change from past years under Republican rule, with tax cuts focused on lower income Ohioans and significant increase in programs aimed at helping the poor and those impacted by Ohio’s addiction crisis.
“Lower incomes and kids in our communities are the people who are hurting the most now,” Householder said. “We’re starting to turn the corner on the tremendous addiction we’ve had in our communities … and now it’s time to focus on these communities and these families that have been horrendously impacted by this opioid crisis in the state. Those faceless children … we have a chance to reach out.”
Among the key budget provisions:
• Spends another $675 million on K-12 education, directing much of the money to districts with higher poverty concentrations to help them pay for services such as mental health counseling and after school programs. Work will continue on an alternative funding formula, known as the Cupp-Patterson plan. The budget creates a host of school-funding study committees to focus on areas including special and gifted education, charter schools, low-income students and preschool programs.
“When you don’t know, it’s imperative that you dig deeper to get the answers,” said Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, noting specifically that the state doesn’t know exactly what it costs to educate students with special needs. Speaking about students in poverty, he added, “How much funding, and where does it go? To which students should it apply?”
Patterson promised that the several months of work he and Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, put into reworking the funding formula will be worth it. “There is still more work to be done in the area of funding our schools.”
• Eliminates the state school takeover process for chronically struggling school districts, replacing it with requirements for local planning and adjustments.
• Increases the minimum teacher base salary schedule in law by 50 percent, though that is not expected to directly impact actual union teacher pay.
• Alters the state report card, changing how districts receive an overall grade. This will allow a few dozen districts to get higher grades.
• Establishes a new $20 million school-bus purchasing program.
• Sets aside $85 million over two years for Gov. Mike DeWine’s new H2Ohio program, designed to do more to protect Lake Erie and other state waterways.
• Doubles DeWine’s requested funding for foster care and child protective services, while adding millions more for domestic violence counseling and rape crisis centers. This will allow rape crisis centers to expand to all 88 counties, up from the current 75.
• Eliminates state income tax on up to $22,250 of income and reduces remaining tax brackets by 6.6 percent. Also significantly scales back the tax exemptions currently enjoyed by pass-through business owners, rolling the deduction back to $100,000. Overall, it is a net $108 million tax reduction per year.
• Reforms the Medicaid pharmacy benefit manager system, allowing only one so-called PBM to operate as a drug middleman for the state, while adding more transparency in an effort to avoid overpayments and steering of business.
• Requires the Advisory Council on Amusement Ride Safety to vote on whether to submit findings or recommendations to the state agriculture director.
• Freezes tuition and general fees for four years for all incoming university freshman, meaning they will not see an increase while obtaining a bachelor’s degree in the expected time.
• Attempts to provide more medical care cost transparency for patients and limit when patients are charged out-of-network fees.
“This budget is unequivocally an investment in Ohio and lets us finish some of the unfinished business,” said House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron.