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Ohio House passes off-year budget bill with plenty of debate
Some lawmakers say the process by which it passed doesn't work anymore.

Jo Ingles
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The Ohio House has passed a budget update bill by pretty much a party line vote. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, Democrats say they think the process is flawed.
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Democrats in the Ohio House say they opposed the mid biennium budget appropriations bill because it was a flawed process. They called it a Christmas tree, full of gifts for different interest groups and communities. One provision buried in the bill would allow foreign companies with government contracts in Ohio to spend money on political candidates in Ohio, and their ads wouldn’t have to disclose where the money came from. Democrat Bob Hagan said it was a give-away for special interest groups because it allows more corporate money.

"This is the most objectionable part of the legislative process, allowing most of us in this room to look like we are prostitutes for other countries," Hagan said. "It’s hard enough to defend what we do with the corporations that invest in this process."

Democrat Dan Ramos said allowing more outside money to be inserted in the political process will hurt Ohioans.

"Every dollar and every cent that a business is investing in an election is a dollar that a business is not spending in our state, not spending in our community, not spending philanthropically, not spending volunteering in our churches, they are not spending creating jobs," Ramos said.

Democrats offered a variety of amendments designed to limit campaign contributions or make them more transparent. And members of the minority party tried to go after what they call “dark money” in JobsOhio, the state’s non profit job creation company. Democrat Matt Lundy said unless the public knows where money for that agency comes from, there’s no way to know whether pay to play is in full force there. And he said it makes JobsOhio ripe for corruption much like the bad investment the state made through the bureau of worker’s compensation years ago.

"If this dark money in campaigns and government, it will make 'coingate' look like child’s play," Lundy said. 

But Republicans said comparisons like that were unwarranted and unfair. Republican Lynn Wachtmann characterized JobsOhio board members as some of the highest quality people in the state.

"The assumption that a couple of you gave on your side of the aisle that they are crooks is deplorable," Wachtman said. "I would submit to you that your attitude toward businesses is part of the reason why Ohio’s job climate isn’t as positive as it should be. I mean if I’m a business corporate executive making decisions about where to locate my business and I hear elected officials in a state calling me a crook, heh, that doesn’t really lend itself toward me wanting to invest in that state."

Republican Representative Ron Amstutz said the bill was full of important expenditures that would help schools and communities. And he said there’s no good reason for lawmakers to question the motives of the measure. He assured this bill had enough transparency and checks and balances so it wouldn’t lead to an abuse of power.

"We have had more transparency, more availability," Amstutz said. "I mean I can find out things that I couldn’t find out five years ago much easier now than I could before. I think the transparency has been improving substantially and I think the electronic world has helped tremendously with that."

In the end, the bill came down to pretty much a party line vote with Republicans voting for it, Democrats voting against it. The measure now goes to the Ohio Senate. But that won’t happen for at least a couple of weeks as both chambers are set to go on a spring week and won’t be back until after Easter.

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