House Republicans on Thursday detailed their plan to process Gov. John Kasich's mid-biennium review budget proposals in separate pieces of legislation, although the proposed income tax cut and coinciding severance tax hike on oil and gas exploration will remained sidelined.
As expected, that proposal, which the majority caucus stripped from the package shortly after its introduction, is not the subject of any of the 10 measures that legislative leaders discussed in a conference call with reporters.
Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) and Finance Chairman Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster) continued to maintain that there were too many questions surrounding those particular tax proposals and not enough time for the legislature to work through them all before summer recess commences at the end of May.
"We're in the early stages of an analysis that will help guide us in terms of what direction that might take some time in the future," Mr. Amstutz said.
The speaker said outstanding issues include the potential impact on Ohio's oil and gas tax structure if the so-called Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire. Other issues involve pipelines and rights-of-way, he said. "There are just a lot of questions that require and obligate us to have thorough hearings before we handle the legislation that the governor introduced."
Speaker Batchelder declined to put a timeline on legislative action for that component, adding that the GOP-controlled legislature has already "exhaustively" worked to enact dozens of Mr. Kasich's proposals so far this session.
Rep. Amstutz said one of the advantages of splitting the bills up is that they can move on separate timelines if necessary. However, the oil and gas proposal isn't ripe for legislative hearings at this point, he said.
"If we had it in front of us in a bill it would suck up, I think, most of the oxygen in the hearing room," Rep. Amstutz said. "We have so much other work here and it's such an important issue that it needs to have some work on the side. I'd say it's on the side for work right now, and we are going to work on it, but it isn't ready to have a bill out there yet."
Kasich spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp said the governor remains focused on reducing the income tax burden on all Ohioans and hopes the legislature will take up his severance and income tax proposal soon.
"We feel very strongly that lowering Ohio's most punitive tax is worthy of debate and discussion, and it was encouraging to hear Speaker Batchelder suggest that the House will review the income tax reduction plan very shortly," she said.
Ms. Wehrkamp also said the administration does not take issue with the multiple-bill approach.
"Whether in one bill or several, our biggest concern is ensuring the pro-taxpayer policies introduced through the MBR move through the legislature quickly," she said.
The separate bills, some of which were introduced Tuesday, and their sponsors and destination committees are as follows:
• HB 487 (Amstutz by request) Main MBR; Finance
• HB 490 (Landis/Dovilla) Veterans Services; Veterans Affairs
• HB 505 (Amstutz) Board of Tax Appeals; Ways & Means
• HB 508 (Beck) General Tax Law Changes; Ways & Means
• HB 509 (Blair) Local Government; Local Government
• HB 510 (Amstutz) Financial Institutions Tax; Ways & Means
• HB 511 (Beck/Gonzales) Tax Credits; Ways & Means
• HB 512 (Maag); Land Conveyances; State Government & Elections
• HB 513 (Maag) Lease/Leaseback; State Government & Elections
• HB 514 (Newbold) Real-time Traffic; Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security
As anticipated, the main MBR measure will contain all of the appropriations and line item changes as well as Medicaid-related language and the remaining components, according to the House GOP. Among the expected changes to the main bill is the appropriation language for the revamped Development Services Agency that's included in other changes under the JobsOhio II legislation (SB 314 & HB 489)
Among the unknowns at this point is the fate of criminal justice provisions in the MBR, which were not mentioned as being on track for separate legislation. Rep. Amstutz said more details on what will remain in the main bill and what is removed for later consideration would be revealed on Tuesday.
Along with single-subject constitutional guidelines that Mr. Amstutz previously raised as a concern (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 6, 2012), Speaker Batchelder said splitting up the legislation "will give the legislature the opportunity to give each bill ample consideration and focus, giving stakeholders and the public a chance to analyze the subjects that fit their expertise and interest.
"This will also give the respective House and Senate committees enough time to be thorough in their deliberations of matters that are specific to that committee. This comprehensive effort is one of the key ways that we can keep Ohio's reform momentum moving in the right direction by examining the way Ohio is currently operating, improving the functioning of our state government and strategically investing in our communities."
Rep. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), the ranking minority member of the House Finance & Appropriations Committee, continued to question the focus of the governor's plan.
"We look forward to the continued discussion on the numerous policies changes within these bills. However, we remain concerned about the funding crisis that is brewing for schools and communities across the state," he said.
"Of all the changes in these bills, there's nothing that appears to address these very serious issues."