The House signed off Wednesday on three components of Gov. John Kasich's mid-biennium budget update, making them the most likely of several bills derived from his proposals to clear the upper chamber prior to the summer break.
The near-term fate of several other measures that were originally part of Mr. Kasich's ambitious package are less clear, especially given the House has no sessions scheduled for next week. Among the bigger policy pieces lingering in the House for more deliberation is a new tax system for banks and insurance companies (HB 510*).
Among the numerous measures acted on during Wednesday's session was the "main" MBR measure, which contains all of the appropriations and human services-related provisions (HB 487*). The bill also served as a vehicle for dozens of other policy tweaks, many of which were added during recent hearings of the House Finance & Appropriations Committee. (Legislative Service Commission Comparison Document)
The panel's final version included more money for nursing homes and also set the stage for financial relief to local government entities down the road. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 24, 2012)
Also passing the House Wednesday were the MBR measures on tax law changes (HB 508*) and local governments (HB 509*).
And included in a handful of other hot-button legislation that cleared the chamber (see separate stories) was another major bill with significant budget implications: the Kasich administration's plan to further implement the JobsOhio initiative to privatize much of the state's corporate incentive funding oversight and restructure the Department of Development (HB 489*).
Much of the MBR debate centered on a failed Democratic amendment to provide $400 million for schools and additional funds for local governments, as the minority party continued the argument that the bill does nothing to address communities hit hard by the Kasich Administration's decision to slash local government funds to help balance the state's coffers.
Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), chair of the House Finance & Appropriations Committee and the sponsor of the bill "by request," kicked off the debate by stating that the measure is in keeping with the restrained spending in the biennium budget passed last spring (HB 153*).
"Clearly, we are steady as she goes, which is a good thing," he said. "Because we are on track, we are able to deal with a bill here today that doesn't make further difficult decisions."
Rep. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), as he did in committee on Tuesday, expressed frustration with the bill's lack of assistance to local communities, which he termed a "missed opportunity."
The prior budget cuts, he said, have "resulted in massive layoffs of teachers, firefighters, police officers, public service workers, and public services in general."
Rep. Amstutz said the Democrats' so-called "Kids and Communities First" amendment amounted to a "rush to the trough," adding: "Frankly, there are some spending problems at the local level that need to be addressed."
Nevertheless, Mr. Amstutz continued to hold out hope for government funding stakeholders that, at the conclusion of the MBR process, some of the anticipated surplus money could be appropriated.
While the measure contains language that blocks the administration from transferring excess fiscal year 2012 money into the state's rainy day account pending further negotiations with the legislature, the Finance chairman said, "Now is not the time" for that debate.
Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati), citing the fiscal squeeze felt in her district, responded that local government employees and teachers shouldn't have to wait. "My district is asking for help right now," she said.
Although the House appears willing to consider additional program funding through the MBR measure, Gov. Kasich literally laughed off that prospect Wednesday.
In a YouTube video posted on the governor's public website, Mr. Kasich bursts out laughing when asked about the push for more spending and what he thinks is an appropriate level for the Budget Stabilization Fund. He also suggested that any attempt to add significant appropriations to the measure would be vetoed.
"We just came out of an $8 billion hole. We were dying economically," he said. "And now that we begin to see some sunlight, people start thinking, 'Well how can we go back to spending again?'"
"That's just not acceptable," the governor continued. "Look, you know, issues that ... could reflect sort of a crisis situation where you might need to have a little bit more money, that's fine. But this idea that you're out there, you know, just trying to take care of one group or another is not good."
The governor said that after he spent time in meetings with legislative leaders earlier in the day that he felt