With hours to go before the deadline for a two-year operating budget to be signed, and negotiations stalled with the Ohio House, the Ohio Senate approved a deal that would extend it for 17 days.
A full budget agreement must be met by the end of Sunday, which marks the end of the fiscal year. The Senate’s plan is a stopgap based on the likely chance that the Senate and House will not reach a budget deal by that time.
Both chambers passed their own versions of the budget bill, HB166, with wide bipartisan support. The House approved its plan in early May, and the Senate had unanimous support after making its changes.
The spending plan, however, hit a wall in conference committee when members of the House and Senate had to iron out a compromise.
On the Senate floor, Finance Committee Chair Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said there was a “cloud” hanging over the conference committee process because they couldn’t decide which document they would use as a jumping off point for their amendments. Dolan says either the House or Senate version must be adapted in order to see amendment details.
“Until about 9:30 tonight, we the Senate, were not able to access the amendments of the House members,” said Dolan. “There is no way this body can say to the state of Ohio, ‘We are comfortable with the priorities of our state and the path you turn on.’”
House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) replied to Dolan’s assessment on Twitter saying, “Totally surprised by comments. Most bizarre contrived excuse for continual procrastination I have ever heard.”
State Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron), House Minority Caucus leader, released a statement critiquing Republicans—who control both chambers of the legislature—for failing to meet the deadline.
The fact that the GOP lead #OHLeg & Gov didn’t pass a budget on a deadline that has been in existence for longer than Methuselah lived, is absurd! I’m angry. Not bc we’ve been held hostage for days but bc they FAILED Ohioans. This is unacceptable on every level. #DoBetter
— Emilia Sykes (@EmiliaSykesOH) June 30, 2019
She added through Twitter that Dolan’s explanation was “an interesting take. I've been here since Tuesday talking to members all week."
Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) did not want to elaborate further on Dolan’s comments about the conference committee process. Instead, Obhof said the Senate and House started with an “awful lot of points of difference” between the two chambers adding that they have been getting closer to a deal.
Some of the main points of contention seemed to include the tax plans, health care reforms, and education spending.
The House budget bill included a 6.6% income tax cut across the board, cut the bottom two tax brackets, lowered the small business income tax deduction to the first $100,000 earned, and put more money into wraparound services for schools.
In the Senate’s budget bill, income taxes were cut by 8% over the course of the next two fiscal years, the small business income tax deduction was restored to the first $250,000 earned, and the extra money dedicated to wraparound services in the House plan were funneled to vouchers and school districts with growing enrollment.
Also looming over the budget process has been HB6, a comprehensive energy bill that would possibly bail out Ohio’s two struggling nuclear plants, repeal the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, and subsidize two struggling coal plants.
The Senate held another committee hearing on the bill Saturday afternoon. FirstEnergy Solutions has said it needs the bill to pass by Sunday in order to decide if it can continue running its plants. Obhof said he’s talked to FirstEnergy Solutions and that there’s “always been a little flexibility there.”
The House plans to meet for session Sunday night, at which point they could hold a vote on the Senate’s temporary budget. However, there’s still time for the chambers to possibly reach a complete budget deal.
Gov. Mike DeWine issued a statement following the Senate’s budget stopgap vote.
“The legislature has an obligation to keep our government funded and operating,” DeWine said. “Both houses passed proposals that share the priorities of my executive budget proposal, and they passed them by overwhelming, bipartisan majorities. I urge the conference committee to continue negotiations and pass a budget promptly."
The Senate also approved a 30-day budget extension for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, as the chambers have yet to reach a deal on that measure as well.