COLUMBUS, Ohio — State Senator Matt Huffman (R-Lima) today announced the passage of the Ohio Senate’s version of the state’s biennial operating budget. The bill invests in essential public services, maintains historic levels of state aid for education and preserves key tax reforms while reducing government overhead and closing a projected revenue shortfall of roughly $1 billion.
“All budgets are imperfect,” said Senator Huffman. “There are things I’m glad are included, some I wish were eliminated, and others I’m happy were left out. I do not support the amendment to change setback requirements for the construction of wind turbines, and I worked with the Finance Chairman and leadership to pare down its effect. In addition, we should be doing more to solve the unpredictability of school funding in Ohio so that we don’t have the mad dash of school district appropriations moving up and down every two years.”
“This budget is fiscally responsible while investing in the citizens and priorities of this state,” said Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina). “I’m proud of the work we were able to accomplish to keep our state healthy and our future hopeful.”
Below are major highlights of the Senate-passed version of the budget:
Reducing Government Spending and Increasing Efficiency
With the state facing a projected shortfall of just over $1 billion, the Senate reduced government overhead by cutting administrative costs across state agencies an average of 3-4 percent and finding tens of millions in excess or unspent funds. This cost savings was managed with the goal of minimal impact on actual services provided.
The Senate also included a process for the legislature to review each executive agency every two years prior to the biennial budget with the goal of limiting duplicative state programs and ensuring the responsible allocation of state resources.
Protecting Vital Services and Programs
The Senate restored funding cuts to several essential services, including food banks, breast and cervical cancer screening programs, and clean water and food safety programs.
The Senate also included additional funding for crisis pregnancy centers, Teach for America and Special Olympics, among other essential programs.
Funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, especially for pregnant women and new mothers, was increased to $25 million.
Over $22 million was allocated for workforce training programs in the Appalachia region of Ohio, a significant increase.
The fallout from Obamacare has left many Ohio counties without adequate health care insurance options. As the program continues to be financially unsustainable, the Senate instituted reforms to both contain growth and ensure access to Medicaid services for Ohioans who need them most. This includes requiring the state to file a Section 1332 Innovation Waiver by January 2018 to get Ohio more flexibility to regulate its own insurance market, free of federal mandates.
It also controls costs by seeking a Section 1115 waiver for the “Healthy Ohio” program, freezing Medicaid expansion in July 2018 and allowing the state the ability to hit the pause button while the Senate evaluates federal changes.
Maintaining Investments in Education
Total state aid investments since 2013 have resulted in overall state per pupil increases of 30.5%. The Senate plan calls for an additional $154 million in state foundation aid for K-12 education in FY18 and an additional $120 million in FY19.
The Senate continued to prioritize college affordability, removing a provision that would have permitted unlimited increases in tuition under the Ohio Tuition Guarantee Program, and increased funding by more than $208 million for need-based financial aid.
Increased funding for libraries across the state.
Fighting Ohio’s Opiate Epidemic
The Senate includes nearly $180 million in additional funding for the opiate crisis, on top of the nearly $1 billion already spent by the state annual on drug abuse and addiction.
Included is $60 million in funding for child protective services and programs to support children in drug-affected families; an additional $2 million dollars over the biennium to support county coroners and criminal and forensic labs who are facing case overload issues; maintaining $20 million capital commitment for the expansion of treatment and recovery housing; funding critical upgrades to the OARRS system, a statewide effort to track prescriptions and combat prescription abuse, and adding a $5 million investment to help counties establish drug abuse response teams, among other initiatives.
Returning More Tax Dollars to Ohioans
The Senate doubles the tax deduction families can take for college savings, as well as for the ABLE program, which allows families of children with disabilities to save for expense associated with caring for them.
Also included are the Rural Jobs Act, which incentivizes agricultural job creation and economic development in the rural underserved areas of the state, and the Sales Tax Holiday for 2018, which provides tax relief for families and encourages retail sales and tourism.
“The majority of this budget I am pleased with, however, and I wholeheartedly support the budget for those provisions,” added Huffman. “For example, improved restrictions on Medicaid participation that encourage employment and incentivizes citizens to lift themselves up and pursue success with less government assistance. Most importantly, I am proud that this budget does not raise taxes a single cent. Raising taxes, especially the income tax, is not the way to solve the state’s problems.”
Amended Substitute House Bill 49 now returns to the Ohio House of Representatives, where it is expected to be referred to a conference committee where the House and Senate versions can be reconciled. The Ohio Constitution requires a balanced budget signed by the governor by June 30.