There may have been occasional disagreements between Ohio’s Republican-dominated House and Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich, but he’d issued more than a hundred vetoes in his seven years in office without one being overturned. Thursday, that changed dramatically.
For the first time in 40 years, state lawmakers voted to override a budget veto. And they did it 11 times, leaving only 36 of Kasich’s 47 vetoes, which was the most he’d ever issued on a spending plan.
But Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said it wasn’t personal, but stemmed from ideological disagreements. And singling out one action in particular, Rosenberger said no one should think that because the House didn’t vote this time to override Kasich’s veto of a freeze on Medicaid expansion enrollment next year that it didn’t have support.
“We had a discussion about it. We have the votes to actually continue with that if we feel it’s necessary,” Rosenberger said. “But at this juncture we want to give the summer to let the federal government see if they are going to come to a conclusion in Congress before we take action on moving forward with the freeze waiver and the request.”
The decision not to vote came a day after hundreds of activists, many from Democratic and progressive groups, rallied at the Statehouse to show support for Kasich’s veto.
But House Finance Chair Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) said the overrides were an appropriate show of force by state lawmakers, who are very concerned about spending, especially in Medicaid.
“Today we celebrate independence in the sense of what our forefathers granted to us in our Constitution which is a separate but equal branch of government,” Smith said. “I want to be clear it’s not about winning or losing today it’s about exercising the checks and balances that the government has.”
But the state budget director says those actions on Medicaid will have consequences.
One veto override was for a provision requiring the Kasich administration go every six months to the panel of lawmakers on the Controlling Board for permission to spend some Medicaid money. Kasich vetoed that, but that was overturned.
Budget director Tim Keen says putting that money with the Controlling Board is a big problem, since he says lawmakers didn’t put enough money into running Medicaid in the first place.
“There are $260 million that are tied up in the Controlling Board – that’s the state share dollars that we do not have access to without their approval to run the program,” Keen said. “That creates a significant level of uncertainty to the operation of the Medicaid program.”
Keen also blasted the budget requirement that the state ask the federal government for an increase in a tax on health insurers to an amount above what’s allowed by law. That money would go to counties and transit authorities, who’d said they’d lose millions because of a loss of money from a tax on Medicaid managed care organizations.
Keen says Kasich vetoed lawmakers’ proposed hike because he doubts that will be approved, and says even bringing it up risks the deal that Ohio already has on that tax.
“Approaching the federal government to seek free money to hand to the counties and transit authorities which have nothing to do with Medicaid, in my view, risks opening this whole question that could have significant impacts on the budget as a whole,” Keen said.
Nine of the House’s 11 overrides related to Medicaid, including a proposal Kasich struck to require the state ask the feds for permission to charge some recipients premiums of up to $8 a month. Kasich had said that permission was denied last year, but Republicans noted that the author of the plan on which Ohio’s proposal is based is now in the federal Medicaid department.
Among the non-Medicaid vetoes that the House overturned was Kasich’s striking of a provision giving state lawmakers and not him the power to appoint members to the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission. That’s thought to be a door to allowing fracking in state parks, which Kasich opposes.
The Senate still needs to agree with these overrides. The House won’t return till September, but the Medicaid expansion enrollment freeze, along with Kasich’s 35 other vetoes, could be overridden at any time before the two-year session ends in December of next year.