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Budget update passes key House committee, heads to floor
After some big additions to the off-year budget update, it has now passed the House finance committee and will head to the floor.
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE BUREAU CHIEF KAREN KASLER


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Karen Kasler
 
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Lawmakers added a lot of extra items to the governor’s big off-year budget update. But as Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, at least one of those controversial changes in the main budget bill didn’t stay around long.
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After few weeks of hearings and just before an expected committee vote, House Republicans added four pages of items to the mid-biennium review or MBR on Monday. On Tuesday, they finalized some of those changes, including adding three bills to help the state battle painkiller abuse. But there were some controversial items that brought debate, including a 10% cut in local government funds for counties that send out unsolicited absentee ballots to all voters. That was obviously aimed at plans by the Democrat-controlled Cuyahoga County Council to vote to send those out, though state law says only the Secretary of State can. When he learned about this, Secretary of State Jon Husted noted that he will be sending out ballots this fall, and criticized Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic candidate for governor, for threatening to violate the law. But Husted also blasted his Republican colleagues for putting that in the MBR. 

“It’s a complete overreaction and an unnecessary reaction," Husted said. "This whole discussion has gotten out of control.”

Husted said the state auditor already has the authority to deal with counties that would do this. And though it was clearly targeted at his likely opponent this fall, Gov. John Kasich also called for that to be removed from his budget update. Late Tuesday, House Finance Committee chair Ron Amstutz agreed. 

“We’re taking that out based on the conversation that we’ve had and the understanding that we now have as to what the state auditor has been doing and has the authority to do on this issue, which seems more appropriate than maybe us stirring into it at this time,” Amstutz said.

But the Cuyahoga County Council still voted Tuesday to send out the ballots to all registered voters in the county. That continues a battle that started in 2011, when FitzGerald ordered the ballots sent out for the vote on Senate Bill 5. Staying in the MBR was a line saying that college athletes aren’t state employees – which many viewed as a potential shut down at attempts by athletes to unionize.  Democrat Mike Foley of Cleveland proposed to Amstutz and the panel an amendment to remove that. 

“Given the fact that this language doesn’t do much, and that it does continue a theme that I think we’ve seen over the past couple of years in terms of trying to minimize and diminish collective bargaining rights, that I think this language should be removed from the bill,” Foley said.
 
“Very well," Amstutz said. "What the language does is clarify that college athletes are not employees, which is so obvious one wouldn’t think you’d have to state it.”

Republicans tabled nearly all of the Democrats’ suggested amendments, including another one described by Foley: 

“Mr. Chairman, we kind of liked your idea about these omnibus amendments, so we thought we’d throw a couple of them together ourselves," Foley said. "Unfortunately, our omnibus amendment, at least this first one, tries to get rid of a bunch of the stuff that was in your omnibus amendment last night.”

But Amstutz rejected those amendments that called for increased spending.

“It appears that this bus is an overload, so we’re going to have to pull it over and give it a ticket," Amstutz said. "Too expensive.”

And Amstutz said other Democratic amendments to the MBR, which House Republicans amended just hours before, needed more discussion and could be taken up in future legislation. The main MBR bill passed out of the House Finance Committee on a party line vote, and is expected on the House floor this afternoon. Senate President Keith Faber wants to pass it next month.

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