For the first time in 12 years, a two-year state operating budget has passed the full Ohio Senate without a single "no" vote. That sends the $69 billion spending plan to a conference committee to work out conflicts with the House version of the budget.
Finance Chair Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said children and families, education, the environment and local government were the Senate’s priorities. He defended the 8% income tax cut and the restoring of the $250,000 small business income tax deduction – equivalent to a $700 million tax cut.
“We’re saying the best investment is to return your money, to return the money to small businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy here in Ohio," Dolan said.
State Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) said there was compromise and good things in the budget – but also bad things.
“The across the board tax cut that really is unnecessary. We don’t need to do this at this particular time,” Sykes said.
However, in spite of their concerns, all nine Democrats voted for the budget.
The unanimous vote, the first for a budget in the Senate since 2007, sends the budget to the conference committee – its members will be named next week. The budget must be signed into law by June 30.
Among the changes that must be hashed out are tax-related. The Senate budget eliminates the bottom two tax brackets and decreases personal income tax rates for the others by 8% over two years. The House's proposed cut was 6.6%.
The Senate proposal would push back Ohio's presidential primary election date in March and direct more money toward water quality initiatives, local governments, libraries and public television stations. Like the House plan, it would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, but it would add taxes on vaping products.
It also would require hospitals to post their standard pricing online, and add more reporting and audit requirements for pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, the private companies that contract with governments to manage prescription programs.
High school graduation requirements would change under the Senate plan, starting with the class of 2023, to reduce state tests and allow for non-test alternatives toward getting a diploma.
The House favored providing $675 million toward educational wraparound services ; the Senate wants $500 million for such services, with the other $125 million going toward education-related spending such as private-school scholarships and fast-growing school districts whose funding has been capped.
Lawmakers also disagreed on whether or how to change Ohio's system for intervening in repeatedly poor-performing school districts — a topic of separate pending legislation. Current law shifts operational control of such districts from locally elected school boards to state-appointed panels and unelected CEOs. The House moved to eliminate those so-called "state takeovers," but the Senate's budget proposal would not.
It would increase spending on foster care by $35 million a year over current spending of $60 million annually in reaction to huge increases in custody placements blamed on Ohio's addictions epidemic. It also adds $25 million in new state dollars a year to help address the problem of parents having to relinquish custody of children with extensive mental disabilities in order to receive state-funded care.
The Senate proposal also would permit private schools to refuse admission to unvaccinated students.