Last week, when the Ohio House passed its version of the two-year state budget, lawmakers in that chamber celebrated their 85-9 vote as a sign of a new era in Columbus.
More bipartisan. More cooperative. More transparent.
And why not? The $69 billion spending plan reflected a level of compromise not seen in many years, as representatives worked together to discuss and address their various priorities for the state.
House Speaker Larry Householder had told Democrats, whose support he had needed to secure the leadership position in the chamber following last fall’s elections, their legislative agenda would be considered equally with his fellow Republicans’.
It could have been an empty promise, as the GOP maintains a solid majority in the House, but he included many of the Democrats’ wishes in House Bill 166.
Not all, of course, but far more than Democrats had seen in recent history. The result was the overwhelming approval of the bill and wide praise for it.
Last Thursday, their peers in the Ohio Senate essentially said, “You call that bipartisanship? We’ll show you bipartisanship.”
And so they did, voting 33-0 to approve their version of the spending plan.
The tone in the Senate impressed several longtime lawmakers.
“I’m pleased to say that this is the first budget I’ve voted in favor of since taking office nearly a decade ago,” said Senate Finance Committee member Nickie J. Antonio, of Lakewood.
Indeed, some budgets and many other bills passed the General Assembly in recent years with no support from the minority party, reflecting their belief their priorities and amendments never were considered seriously.
That seems to have changed under the leadership of Gov. Mike DeWine, who set the cooperative spirit in motion with a budget proposal Democrats could embrace more readily.
“For years, we’ve urged our Republican colleagues to invest in public health in order to build a stronger Ohio. In this budget, we see real investments in infant mortality reduction, healthy moms, lead abatement programs, wraparound services, multi-system youth and strategies to address the opioid crisis,” Antonio said.
This budget scores high marks in many of those areas.
“We have a budget that reflects the needs of everyday Ohioans more than any budget in the last decade,” said Sean J. O’Brien, a Democrat from Trumbull County and member of the Senate Finance Committee.
When the House passed its version of the bill, we supported many of its key elements, particularly as they pertain to closing a business tax loophole and ending the takeover of state school districts. We’re less enthusiastic about the Senate’s treatment in those two areas.
Nonetheless, a foundation has been established from which the House-Senate conference committee over the next week or so can build a budget that works for most Ohioans — from both parties and representing many interests. No one will get everything he or she wants, but neither should any lawmakers walk away saying they got nothing.
It has been a long time since we could say those words with any degree of confidence.
We’re hopeful this level of cooperation represents a more standard practice in Columbus and not a one-time occurrence.