SUDDES: Tuesday was the last good day in Ohio House chamber Gov. DeWine will have in a while



Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s annual state of the state speech, and budget preview, drew cheers and standing ovations Tuesday at the Statehouse.

Good thing: He’ll need that memory to keep him going during the next five months, as the Ohio House of Representatives and state Senate chop and channel DeWine’s proposed $86.9 billion budget, amid House Republican bickering.

Consumer prices for all items rose 6.5 % for the 12 months that ended in December. DeWine’s budget (measured by the General Revenue Fund, including federal Medicaid reimbursements) would boost state spending by 3.7% for the year beginning July 1 (a total of $42.3 billion), then by 5.4% (a total of $44.6 billion) for the year beginning in July 2024.

While Republicans control both the Ohio House and state Senate, the dynamics hardly offer DeWine a slam-dunk.

Reasons: The (a) the 67-member House Republican caucus is split, and (b) state Senate Republicans aren’t fans of the Cupp-Patterson school funding plan, which DeWine supports. DeWine told legislators Tuesday the budget he’s submitting “continues the implementation of the Cupp-Patterson … formula.”

True, also Tuesday — and this was music to the ears of his fellow Republicans — DeWine called for the further expansion of Ohio school vouchers — tax money spent to help parents pay private-school tuition. The new eligibility ceiling DeWine wants would require family income to be at or below 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines — or $111,000 for a family of four. (The current income ceiling for such a family is $69,375.)

By comparison, median household income in Ohio, the Census Bureau reports, was $61,938 in 2017-21. That is, the $111,000 income ceiling for voucher eligibility that DeWine’s proposing could come close to universalizing family eligibility for school vouchers in Ohio.

Numbers are only part of the budget story. Process is an equal part. The traditional sequence of a budget bill at the Statehouse is (a) House Finance Committee (chair: Jay Edwards, a Nelsonville Republican); (b) House vote; (c) Senate Finance Committee (chair: Matt Dolan, a Chagrin Falls Republican); (d) Senate vote; (e) Senate-House conference committee; and (f) approval of the conference-committee-written budget by the House and Senate, then by DeWine.

But House Republicans are split: About a third of the 67 Republicans (with the votes of all 32 House Democrats) elected the House speaker, Jason Stephens, a Kitts Hill Republican.

But about two-thirds of the House’s Republicans supported suburban Toledo Republican Derek Merrin for speaker. Merrin’s allies claim they’re the House’s genuine GOP majority.

Given Statehouse hardball — a tabled amendment here, a killed bill there — it’s hard to know how solid the Merrin group is. But when the budget’s in the House, and DeWine needs to negotiate, must he bargain with both Stephens and Merrin, or with Stephens alone, or with Stephens and House Leader Allison Russo, an Upper Arlington Democrat?

Likewise, House Republicans will be entitled to two of three House seats on the Senate-House conference committee that will craft the final budget plan. One House conferee will almost surely be House Finance Chair Edwards, a Stephens ally. But who will Stephens appoint as House Republicans’ other conferee, another of his allies? Or a Merrin supporter?

Donnybrook, here we come, assuming Merrin’s allies stick. Even so, it takes 50 House votes to pass a budget; Merrin drew 43 votes (counting his) in the GOP caucus. The 32 House Democrats, plus 24 Republicans who backed Stephens’s House rules package, total 56 members.

Tuesday, Mike DeWine had a good day in the Ohio House’s chamber. But thanks to the House GOP split, it may be the last good day he’ll have there for a while.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at

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