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Ohio House pushes unfinished, unbalanced state budget off on Senate

After six years of GOP tax-shifting, Ohio's broken economy brings GOP promise of $800M in cuts
May 2, 2017
Democrat Newsroom

Before new state economic indicators come out Thursday, the Ohio House today passed a version of the state’s two-year budget, House Bill (HB) 49, that remains hundreds of millions of dollars out of balance, if not more. The vote comes a little more than two weeks after Gov. Kasich and GOP legislative leaders announced they would need to cut close to $1 billion from the bill to maintain a stable, balanced budget. Still, the final version of House Bill 49 approved largely along party lines today fell over $400 million short of being a balanced budget bill by that standard. 

“The inability to adequately invest in Ohio’s future due to vanishing revenues is a direct result of six years of failed GOP economic policies that shifted taxes onto local communities and middle-class families,” said House Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton). “Republicans promised that tax cuts for the wealthy would deliver a thriving economy and vibrant communities, and yet Ohio has trailed the nation in job growth for fifty-one consecutive months, families bring home less income than the national average, and Ohio leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths. Just hitting the brakes on tax-shifting in this budget is not enough to stop Ohio from falling over the fiscal cliff. We need a real plan that reverses the failed economic policies of the past and focuses the future so the next generation of working people can have economic stability and a clear path to the middle class in our state.”

Democratic members argued that passing an unbalanced budget not only violated their constitutional oath, but was fiscally irresponsible and would jeopardize Ohio’s already weak economy.

“Instead of investing in our schools, communities and the middle class families that drive our economic growth, Republican lawmakers shifted taxes for the past six years to help pay for handouts to the wealthiest one percent,” said Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire), the top Democrat on the House budget committee. “However, now that Ohio is on the verge of a recession, GOP lawmakers are unwilling to make the tough financial decisions that citizens elected them to and instead are pushing off their responsibility to pass a balance budget onto the Senate.”

Democratic lawmakers argued on the House floor that the past six years of GOP tax-shifting policies have not delivered the jobs and economic growth that Republicans promised, but instead harmed middle class families and directly contributed to the state’s current fiscal crisis.

“The damage from the tax shifting policies of Ohio’s Republican leadership have decimated our state for over a decade and further compounds the problems that our local communities and schools have been struggling with,” said House Democratic Assistant Leader Nick Celebrezze (D-Parma). “House Bill 49 and the unbalanced budget it creates unfortunately continues this trend and only further stacks the deck against working Ohioans.”

Ohio’s job growth has trailed the national average for 51 consecutive months, Ohio families bring home thousands of dollars less than the average household in America, and close to 30 percent of Ohio jobs are low wage, paying less than poverty wages.

“As we lead the nation in opioid overdose deaths and are forced to resort to emergency measures like mobile morgues, it is our responsibility to provide real resources for families and communities,” said House Democratic Whip Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood). “Now, failed economic policies of the last six years have destabilized our budget, making it nearly impossible to guarantee real funding to combat the crisis unless we use emergency reserves. I stand by our calls over the past four years on GOP lawmakers to provide real resources in the fight against heroin and opioids. We owe families and communities across the state a real guarantee of more help and funding, and that’s not what we voted on today.”

Democratic lawmakers offered several amendments on the House floor, including proposals to provide close to $500 million in real funding increases for opioid addiction treatment. The lawmakers also called for a bipartisan oversight commission, The Budget Management and Stabilization Commission, to investigate the cause of Ohio’s missing money and to ensure the state budget is structurally balanced and stable.

“There is nothing more important than the health and well-being of the people of Ohio. If you are physically sick, mentally ill or struggling with addiction, you cannot get to work to support your family or get to school to earn a degree,” said House Democratic Assistant Whip Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron). “And yet, in the midst of a statewide opioid epidemic, this budget creates new obstacles to access to healthcare for vulnerable Ohioans. I cannot support a budget that promises fake money to fight the opioid epidemic but at the same time threatens to cut people off from the critical healthcare services they need.”

Among other Democratic amendments were:

- Family First for Economic Stability Act, a provision that would provide equal pay and paid family leave for all Ohio families.

-Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Initiative, legislation that would create criminal penalties for state contract rule-rigging and prohibit the Administration’s appointed inspector general from a guaranteed career extension.

-College Affordability Omnibus, a duo of college affordability measures that cap tuition at a three-percent increase and increase Ohio’s College Opportunity Grant.

-Stabilizing Medicaid Expansion, a proposal that would put Ohio’s Medicaid expansion population into Ohio Revised Code to prevent political game-playing with access to lifesaving healthcare services.

-Get to School Safely, a proposal to restore transportation funding to K-12 Ohio schools.

-A House for Every Ohioan, a tax rebalancing bill to undo Republican property tax cost increases by 12.5 percent while increasing the Homestead Exemption eligibility and credits for retirees and senior citizens.

All were rejected along partisan line votes.

House Bill 49 now goes to the Ohio Senate for additional scrutiny. The Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Kasich must approve a balanced budget by June 30 to avoid government shutdown. 

Here is what House Democratic budget committee members are saying about the unbalanced state budget:

“Ohio is now dealing with the hard reality that too many of my constituents deal with back home – living paycheck to paycheck,” said Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati). “There is no guarantee that the next paycheck will be as high as the last one, and recent revenue numbers prove that to be true in Ohio. We needed to cut $800 million but Republican leaders only conserved a portion of that, leaving a gapping money hole for our counterparts in the Senate to deal with. This is an “if” budget— “if” the projections hold.”

“I worry that the budget we voted on today is an illusion. Republican leaders promised to cut $800 million to balance the state budget, but failed to make the tough decisions necessary and instead kicked the can down the road to the Senate,” said Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain). “What is not an illusion are the results of six years of GOP tax-shifting in Lorain, where we are losing jobs and workers are earning below-average wages. We need a real, balanced budget that invests in the middle class and moves Ohio away from the verge of a recession, not more broken promises.”  

“According to the statewide coroner’s association, Ohio is on track to experience six thousand opioid-related deaths this year. Just in the first weekend this April, eight people died from opioid overdoses in Trumbull County alone,” said Rep. Michael J. O’Brien (D-Warren), who offered a floor amendment to tap Rainy Day funds for adult and child protective services, local boards of health and other service providers grappling with the impacts of the opioid crisis. “Unfortunately, the funds allocated in this unbalanced budget are too little, too late. We need to do more to confront this crisis affecting so many families across the state.”

“The budget passed today reflects years of fiscal mismanagement under GOP leadership and falls short of the investments needed to turn our economy around,” said Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati). “This budget is more of the same burden-shifting to the middle class and local communities. This budget does not provide for long-term solutions in education, healthcare and the workforce that will drive our economy and quality of living forward.

Here is what other House Democratic lawmakers are saying about the unbalanced state budget:

“This budget violates the oath we took to uphold the Ohio Constitution – and because it’s not balanced – all budget items are at risk. It is a fantasy budget.” – Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus)

“We are seeing the effects of six years of fiscally irresponsible budgets under Ohio Republicans,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent). Shifting the burden of taxes to working families and local communities while the wealthiest Ohioans see thousands in cuts has not only hurt growth in Ohio, it’s led to an $800 million budget hole. This fantasy budget is not balanced as required by Ohio law and does not solve the pressing issues facing our communities—jobs, education and relief for families struggling with addiction. I cannot knowingly support a budget that leaves so many Ohioans behind. For these reasons, I voted no on HB 49.”

“Ohioans were promised an economic "comeback" as a result of Republican policies to cut personal income taxes,” said OLBC President and state Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland). “Instead, hardworking Ohio families are only experiencing setbacks – setbacks in terms of job opportunities that pay a living wage, setbacks in education and setbacks in the fight against poverty.

“My Democratic colleagues and I worked diligently to try to improve this budget so that we could make the investments necessary to recession-proof our state,” Howse continued. “Unfortunately, our amendments and ideas were rejected largely along partisan lines,” Howse added. “I hope the people of Ohio remember that Republicans and their failed economic policies are responsible for pushing Ohio to this point of fiscal uncertainty and instability.”

“If the Titanic had the chance to do it all over again, they would have taken a different route.  The tragedy of this luxury liner is that it received warnings, but maintained its preplanned course,” said state Rep. Kent Smith (D-Euclid). “Ohio too has received warnings.  We have been told that state revenues are not meeting expectations. Recent data says state income tax receipts are 18 percent below projections. Yet “Steamship Ohio” continues unaltered through dangerous waters. The danger in a budget that has insufficient funds is that when a hole is the blown in the revenue side of the budget the process to correct that problem moves from well-reasoned to panicked.

“We owe the people of this state an honest budget on the expenditure side and the revenue side,” Smith added. “Since we are not being truthful about Ohio's declining dollars and the upcoming budget shortfall, the choices we will have to make to balance our budget will not be well thought out. They will be rushed and sloppy and that's not what our voters expect from us. We were sent here to fight for our constituents and make the tough decisions. Instead, many lawmakers are ignoring the warnings that this budget is going to sink. But it's full speed ahead in the state capitol.  We will worry about the iceberg later.”

“Majority lawmakers can’t have it both ways. The facts are that Medicaid covers opioid addiction treatment,” Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights) said, in reference to new proposals to defund Medicaid every six months. “Reversing one hardship for another. People shouldn’t have to worry every six months if their access to healthcare will be cut off my politicians in Columbus. My opposition to this bill is opposition to children being left parentless, opposition to people not getting the treatment they need.”

“After years of shifting the responsibility to fund services to local governments and tax cuts for the wealthy, we now find Ohio lags in nearly every economic indicator as compared to the rest of the country,” said Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) “We need strategic investments in schools, workforce training, and – for crying out loud – pave our roads.”

“The budget proves once again that slashing taxes for the wealthy and failing to invest in our schools, neighborhoods, infrastructure and, most importantly our people, is an absolute and inevitable formula for disaster,” said Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown). “As we've seen time, and time and time again, the trickle-down policies favored by the Republicans don't deliver prosperity, they deliver broken promises, disappointment and despair.”

“I am very concerned and deeply disappointed by the fact that the budget was passed out of the House today without a provision to provide financial relief to local communities that have suffered from significant state cuts,” said Rep. Glenn Holmes (D-McDonald). “I believe the failure to utilize the budget stabilization fund in the fight against the opioid epidemic presents philosophical, ideological, and even moral questions as to the sincerity with which we face this problem. The budget fails to treat the opioid crisis as the life-or-death emergency that it is for thousands of Ohioans, or prioritize it as such.”

“This budget takes Ohio one step forward and two steps back by neglecting to prioritize resources where they are most needed,” said Rep. Catherine D. Ingram (D-Cincinnati). “Traditional schools, middle-class families and everyday taxpayers will bear the brunt of this unbalanced budget. Misguided tax cuts have resulted in a massive budget shortfall that needs to be addressed. Punting this budget to the Senate without adequately addressing those problems is an abdication of our constitutional responsibility.”

“I believe the statewide opioid epidemic is one of the greatest challenges facing our state, and treatment providers, law enforcement and – most of all – families are looking to their elected officials to show leadership on this issue,”said Rep. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus). “Unfortunately, Ohioans cannot count on the opioid-related money in this budget actually reaching their communities because more budget cuts must be made after House Republicans failed to craft a balanced, fiscally responsible budget. Moving forward, I hope state leaders will finally recognize the opioid epidemic for the statewide emergency that it is and invest real money toward helping those struggling with addiction.”