Budget Clears House....But Not Without Controversy
The budget update bill is 2,560 pages long, but its sponsor, Republican Ron Amstutz of Wooster, said it's not a sweeping package of major changes.
"What we're doing in large part is improving how state government agencies work. "
But Amstutz said what the measure, which is called the mid-biennium review or MBR, does is establish what he calls a predictable, sustainable path forward.
"This is very important. And because we are on track we are able to deal with a bill here today that doesn't make further difficult decisions."
GOP lawmakers never put back in a tax on oil and natural gas drillers that the governor proposed to fund a state income tax cut. And they took out a provision they had added to cut funds to Planned Parenthood. The bill makes lots of policy changes, some big and some small. But what it doesn't do is restore money to entities that took big budget cuts last year - including local governments and schools. Noting that the state is running a surplus of about $265 million and the rainy day savings account is back up to around $250 million, Democrats have tried to divert some of that money to a $400 million fund for school districts and communities. Vernon Sykes of Akron said it was time, because of what he called the massive layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police officers and cutbacks in public services in general.
"It is irresponsible, it's unconscionable to just hold on to this money when so many people are hurting in our communities."
Minority Leader Armond Budish of Beachwood in suburban Cleveland was even more emotional.
"We can't wait - the kids in Cleveland can't wait. The kids around the state can't wait. It is an economic issue. If we don't have educated people in Ohio, we can't fill the jobs that the private sector creates. We need good schools. We need safe communities."
The schools and communities fund amendment was rejected, and the budget update passed on a largely party line vote with four Democrats joining 58 Republicans. It now goes on to the Senate, and it's certain to pass - Republicans outnumber Democrats in that body 2-1.