Ohio lawmakers OK income tax cut, education changes

The bill lays out how Ohio will spend more than $142 billion over two years and makes scores of policy changes.

The GOP-controlled General Assembly delivered on much of what DeWine wanted: more money for programs that serve at-risk children and low-income families, increasing the tobacco and vaping purchase age to 21, and money for the new H2Ohio Fund to pay for environmental protection measures for Lake Erie and other waterways.

Related: Ohioans would get 4% income tax cut

Democrats in the House expressed disappointment in the budget plan, saying it failed to address school funding, expands vouchers for students to attend private schools and doesn’t do enough to make up for more than a decade of tax cuts for wealthier Ohioans.

But state Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, said the budget is a compromise and she warned that lawmakers shouldn’t make perfect the enemy of the good.

TAXES:

Income taxes will be shaved back by 4 percent for Ohioans across the board, which will save someone making $35,000 a year $29 and someone making $125,000 a year $164. The bottom two tax brackets will be eliminated so Ohioans making less than $21,750 a year will pay no state income taxes.

Lawmakers agreed to keep a business tax break that allows sole proprietors, partnerships and LLCs to avoid paying state income tax on the first $250,000 in revenue but modify it so that lobbyists and lawyers are ineligible. The House and Democrats wanted to lower the threshold to the first $100,000 in revenue.

State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, warned that excluding lobbyists and lawyers from the deduction would have unintended consequences and predicted it would be ruled unconstitutional.

The Ohio Lobbying Association asked DeWine to line-item veto the provision, and the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce also sent a letter to DeWine asking that he veto the provision.

EDUCATION:

The bill institutes key changes to education policy, including adding more than $625 million over the next two years for “wrap around services” such as counseling and mental health programs for K-12 students, changing high school graduation requirements and putting a one-year moratorium on state takeovers of underperforming schools.

Lawmakers agreed to a mechanism to stop community colleges from using state funding to subsidize the education of out-of-state online students.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said the budget invests in helping build strong children. She noted that the problems facing schools are linked to kids coming from poverty, disruptive homes, difficult neighborhoods and families with inadequate parental involvement.

HEALTH CARE:

Ohio Medicaid will select a single pharmacy benefits manager to administer the $2.5 billion prescription drug program.

Measures were also put in place to improve price transparency for patients health care and limit “surprise billing” for people being treated out of network. Patients would only have to pay the in-network costs, according to state Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood. Gag rules imposed on insurance companies trying to guide patients to less expensive providers would be prohibited, he said.

He noted that 62 percent of personal bankruptcy filings are due to medical bills.

State Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, an emergency room physician, said the health care billing policy changes would “devastate” patients and providers for years and drive doctors out of Ohio.

He called Butler’s price transparency policy changes “unbelievably unworkable…it’s going to delay care.”

Lawmakers also allocated $7.5 million in federal funds to crisis pregnancy centers, which counsel women against abortion. The earmark drew applause from Ohio Right to Life and criticism from NARAL Pro-Choice, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron.

Sykes said she would urge DeWine to line-item veto the crisis pregnancy center funding as well as money to expand vouchers for children to attend private school and plans to move the 2020 presidential primary election date to March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

The House voted 75-17 on the compromise version of the bill and the Senate followed with a 29-1 vote, sending the measure to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature. DeWine has line-item veto authority on it.

Related: Ohio steps closer to moving 2020 primary election to St. Patrick’s Day

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