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Government and Politics

Ohio Democrats set budget priorities before State of the State speech
Democrats want to restore some tax breaks cut by GOP lawmakers

Jo Ingles
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni says Ohioans are hurting under the GOP dominated legislature.
Courtesy of Ohio Senate
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Just days before Gov. John Kasich is set to make his State of the State speech, Democrats in the Ohio Senate are releasing their budget priorities. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the Democrats’ list starts with restoring some tax breaks cut by the GOP-dominated Legislature last year.
LISTEN: Republicans and Democrats disagree about Ohio's progress

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It’s hard to believe Democrats and Republicans are talking about the same Ohio. Democratic State Sen. Joe Schiavoni says Ohioans are hurting under the current GOP leadership.

"Thirty-one thousand more Ohioans are unemployed today than they were this time last year. Ohio is 45th in the nation in job creation. Ohio’s unemployment rate has grown more than any other state over the past year.
"Those are all numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The governor has increased the sales tax and pushed for tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy while, at the same time, kicking thousands of Ohioans off food assistance."

GOP sees it differently
But Republican State Sen. Larry Obhof says Ohioans are better off now.

"We’ve had about 170,000 net new private sector jobs. Ohio is now ranked seventh among the 50 states for its overall fiscal condition. We’ve had our credit outlook upgraded. We’ve replenished the rainy day fund.  It was down around 89 cents when Gov. Strickland left office and now it’s about $1.5 billion."

Restore homeowner taxbreaks
Democrats say there are more Ohioans living in poverty now than three years ago. Schiavoni says Gov. Kasich’s budget update, called the mid-biennial review, should include return of specific tax breaks for homeowners that were eliminated by the Republican dominated state legislature last year.

"We need to reinstate that home exemption. We shouldn’t be helping to balance the budget on the backs of seniors in Ohio. We should help them enjoy a good quality of life toward the end of their life after retirement. We should also reinstate the property tax rollback.
"There’s no reason that we took that 12 percent share away from paying toward levies in the state of Ohio so now not only is it very difficult to pass levies but now you have to pass more expensive levies which just makes the campaigns more difficult."

Shift more taxes to oil and gas
Schiavoni says Ohio’s severance tax on oil and gas drillers should be raised to be in line with other states.  And he says the state could use money saved through the Medicaid expansion and money from the state’s rainy day fund to reinstate those tax breaks that were eliminated last year.  But Obhof says the tax breaks Schiavoni wants to reinstate were removed as part of a tax reform package that lowered income taxes and improved Ohio’s business climate.

"I think that where we are at now is a better place than where we were a year ago and if you look at the overall package, we did make some significant steps in the right direction."

Republican Obhof says he’d like to see the income tax in Ohio lowered even more to make the state even more attractive to new businesses. But Democrats such as State Sen. Charleta Tavares say middle- and low-income Ohioans are not benefiting much from the income tax cuts. And she says the state needs to invest more in drug-addiction services, restore food assistance to needy families and make education more affordable and accountable for public school students.

"When we talk about insuring that we are taking care of the basic needs of all of our residents, the money that we save out of Medicaid, the money that we have in the rainy day fund, those should be used on the services and programs that are going to meet the needs of all Ohioans."

But Obhof says the Democrats want to return to failed policies.

"If you look at the specific policy proposals, I’m not sure they are good ones.  But the big picture things that I got from if you listen to the Democratic leadership is that we should take more of the taxpayer’s money and we should raid the rainy day fund.  And I disagree with that approach.  I think we’ve already tried that approach under Governor Strickland and it was bad for the state."

Some of the proposals the Democrats want in the upcoming mid-biennial review might have a chance of getting funding. What Republicans want will matter most when it comes to the review because they control the Legislature and every elected statewide office right now.  What Democrats want could come into play in the fall when Kasich is up for re-election.  And it will be Ohioans will decide whether to return him and the policies of the past three years, or whether to embrace the Democratic agenda and likely gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald.
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