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State budget passes; veto battle looms

By JIM SIEGEL GateHouse Ohio Media Published: July 14, 2017 3:21 PM

The House and Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a new two-year, $65.5 billion budget, and legislative leaders say they could return next week to override Gov. John Kasich's possible veto of a Medicaid expansion freeze.

Both Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, told members they may return to session next week for potential override votes. Neither leader would publicly speculate what Kasich planned to veto, but many expect the Medicaid expansion to be among them.

"We're not coming back unless we have the numbers to override," Rosenberger said of the three-fifths required majority in each chamber. But he added that, looking at today's budget vote, "I think we would have the votes to do what we need to do."

The issue sparked spirited debates in the House and Senate over the proposal to freeze Medicaid expansion enrollment starting July 1, 2018, after which no new Ohioans could enroll. Those already enrolled could not come back on the program later, if they temporarily get a better job but then lose it, unless they are getting mental health or drug addiction treatment.

"People will die," said Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, a phrase she repeated multiple times in denouncing the expansion freeze.

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Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, responded: "While it is very politically strong to say people will die, the reality is we will all die at some point. That is a very tough fact."

Duffey said there are too many federal strings attached to Medicaid and it eats up too much of the budget.

"You want funding for K-12 (education)? Bye-bye. Medicaid is going to consume it all," he said. "We're trying to balance all of these things that are important to people."

Sen. Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, cited figures from the Kasich administration, which estimated that 500,000 Ohioans could lose coverage under the freeze within the first 18 months.

"This will occur to those folks who are trying to hold a job but have low income but need that Medicaid coverage to ensure their stability in the workplace," Skindell said. "We are turning our backs on those folks who are working hard but will not have health-care coverage in the workplace."

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Budget votes in both chambers were largely along party lines, 24-8 in the Senate and 59-38 in the House. Kasich will sign it Friday, but not before issuing what is expected to be dozens of line-item vetoes.

Republicans defended the freeze of Medicaid expansion, a move allowed under Obamacare that is costing $4.7 billion to cover about 700,000 low-income adults, including many with mental health and drug addiction issues. The federal government now is covering 95 percent of that cost.

The budget orders Kasich to seek a federal waiver for the freeze, but the language is vague and includes no deadline, raising speculation that Kasich could sit on the directive if he decides not to veto it.

The budget also doesn't count on savings from the freeze to balance the budget, meaning Kasich could veto it and the budget would remain balanced.

Kasich declined to discuss the budget on Wednesday: "We'll have plenty to say when the time is right."

Obhof said, "It's a pretty good overall product for the state of Ohio, particularly given the changing fiscal situation over the last six months." Unexpectedly low state tax revenues left the governor's initial budget more than $1 billion out of balance.

House Budget Chairman Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, described the budget as "very responsible in a time of heightened uncertainty and not knowing exactly where we are heading in terms of Medicaid."

Ohio lawmakers made the Medicaid changes not knowing what will happen under possible Obamacare reforms in Washington.

Democrats criticized the state budget on a variety of fronts, including the use of one-time money to plug the revenue shortfall, and not enough for education and local governments. "This budget is built on broken economic assumptions and ideology," said Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire.

Among the many policy provisions in the budget:

Eliminates the governor's authority to make appointments to the Oil and Gas Leasing Commission, which would oversee leasing of state lands to oil and gas drillers. Kasich has yet to make an appointment since 2011, so legislative leaders want to take over that authority and open state parks and other public lands to fracking.

Puts $250,000 into a new capital item designed to help counties pay for new voting equipment, which could cost $200 million statewide.

More important than the money is that this sets up a funding process that can be used next year when lawmakers are expected to use the capital budget to provide millions in funding. The state plans to split the cost 50-50 with each county.

Expands the kinds of hybrid voting machines that can be used to include those that utilize a digital display for the voter before printing the vote onto an optical scan ballot or other paper record.

Increases non-resident deer permit fees from $23 to $74, and turkey fees from $23 to $35.

Creates a new liquor permit that permits the manufacturing of ice cream containing up to 6 percent alcohol. The new permit costs $1,000.

Prohibits the Controlling Board, a legislative spending oversight panel, from approving unanticipated revenue that exceeds 0.5 percent of the total amount of the general revenue fund.

Largely exempts a direct-harvest processor of apple syrup or apple butter from rules governing standards and good manufacturing practices for food processing establishments.


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