Pluses and minuses of Ohio’s new $70B budget

Columbus Dispatch: Never mind what Ohio legislators who finally voted to approve the nearly $70 billion state budget say about its benefits for taxpayers. The constituency they were really looking out for was themselves.

On the eleventh hour of the 17th day after the deadline to enact a budget for the 2020-2021 biennium, members of the Ohio General Assembly worked out differences in House and Senate versions to send a compromised version of House Bill 166 to Gov. Mike DeWine, which he signed into law Thursday.

Fortunately, the House lacked the votes to pass House Bill 6, leaving hope that it will reconsider its stubborn support for bailing out electric utilities on the backs of Ohio consumers and at the expense of existing clean-air provisions.


Different views on key tax provisions had kept Republican leaders in the House and Senate from agreeing on budget language more than two weeks after their deadline.

In the end, they settled on a 4 percent income-tax cut for all Ohioans – likely envisioning how that will look on campaign flyers next fall – and protected the deep-pocketed business lobby with minimal cuts to a $1 billion-plus tax giveaway – probably in hopes of keeping campaign war chests healthy.

The Senate, with DeWine’s support, insisted on preserving most of the tax break that allows certain small businesses to pay no taxes on their first $250,000 of income.

In reality, Ohio’s state income taxes are already relatively low. The across-the-board 4 percent tax cut for all Ohioans will reduce the average state tax burden of about $1,500 a year by only $1.15 a week.


There were some positives in this budget.

DeWine set the prevailing kid-friendly theme of the state appropriations measure by seeding his requested spending plan in March with measures aimed at boosting social-services funding. His well-placed intent was to help improve school performance of Ohio’s neediest children – those dealing with challenges wrought by poverty and drug-addicted parents.

To their credit, the House and Senate approved the governor’s $550 million ask for wraparound services, and the House upped the ante by $125 million.

The budget also helps children with reasonable new high school graduation requirements, effective for this fall’s incoming freshmen, and increased funding for college grants to low-income students.

Students should also benefit from a temporary hold on state takeovers of poor-performing school districts while a better remedy than the current so-called Youngstown Plan is devised.

Legislators tried to reform the self-dealing of pharmacy-benefit managers that took more than $200 million in taxpayer funds over what they paid Ohio pharmacies for prescription drugs, but DeWine vetoed provisions that he said were too restrictive on the state Medicaid department.