The Ohio House voted 58-37 Tuesday in favor of a 4,500-page state budget bill that jettisons Gov. John Kasich’s tax reform plans and carves out $170 million in additional money to fight the opiate addiction crisis gripping Ohio.
“This topic right now is hitting everybody, everywhere,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell. He noted that 3,000 Ohioans died of accidental drug overdoses last year. If a natural disaster claimed that many citizens, state leaders would rush in to help, he said. The $170 million would be funneled toward prevention and education efforts, treatment beds and programs and workforce development.
Republicans knocked down Democrats’ calls to use all or part of Ohio’s $2-billion “rainy day fund” to fight the opiate crisis and also rejected Kasich’s proposal to cut income taxes and offset the revenue loss with increases in oil and gas, tobacco and sales taxes.
The budget, which is certain to undergo many changes over the next several weeks, calls for spending $133 billion over the next two fiscal years. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Ohio Medicaid, which costs about $31.6 billion in state and federal money over two years, consumes the biggest single share of the state budget. It covers 3 million Ohioans, including 715,000 who signed up through Medicaid expansion allowed through the Affordable Care Act.
Conservative lawmakers opposed to Obamacare inserted a provision in the budget bill that would require approval every six months for Medicaid expansion. Republicans called it “legislative guardrails.” Ohio would also seek federal approval for permission to impose work requirements for those enrolled in Medicaid expansion.
State Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, said Ohio shouldn’t punish people for being poor and kick them off Medicaid, especially as the state teeters on the verge of an economic recession. “I think that’s cruel and it’s short-sighted,” she said. Medicaid coverage allows workers to be healthy and able to work, she said.
The House budget relies on expanded gambling to bring in more revenue: a bigger portion of lottery sales would be earmarked for education to generate an additional $45 million over two years, the state would claim a larger share of video lottery terminal revenues to generate $18 million, adding video poker games at racinos would bring in $25 million and adding a new game — Lucky One — to the Ohio Lottery offerings would bring in $10 million.
The House version of the budget doesn’t fully address an anticipated $800 million fall off in state revenues. Smith and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said the budget proposal is in balance, as required, based on existing revenue forecasts but it’ll be revised as new numbers come out. “This thing is going to flex again,” Rosenberger said.
The vote fell largely along partisan lines. Four Democrats voted in favor of the bill while a dozen Republicans opposed it, including John Becker of Cincinnati, Keith Faber of Celina, Candice Keller of Middletown, Nino Vitale of Urbana and Paul Zeltwanger of Mason.