Ohio's Year in Review 2017: Budget and Bills Passed
This was a budget year, and there was a looming deficit lawmakers had to deal with. That took up a lot of time in the Statehouse, but legislators passed other laws affecting baseball, sales tax breaks and workers' compensation.
A Tense Budget Debate
At the beginning of 2017, as President Trump took office, Ohio lawmakers were focused on what to put in the new two-year state budget. Gov. John Kasich wanted another personal income tax cut offset with tax increases. But as lawmakers looked over his budget, state revenues kept coming in well under estimates. That forced Republican state leaders to cut $800 million from the spending plan. Kasich said in April that nothing was off limits when considering cuts.
“Everything has to be under the microscope. You can’t, you just can’t say willy-nilly you’re just going exempt all this. We’ll be sensitive about areas we have to be sensitive about, but decisions have to be made,” he said.
By the deadline at the end of June, lawmakers approved a $133 billion budget that lowered taxes farmers pay, lifted a freeze on tuition at state colleges and allowed video poker games at racinos -- a move that’s expected to mean $25 million in state coffers during that period.
The budget also alloted $123 billion in state and federal funds to fight the opioid crisis. What it didn’t contain was the 17 percent proposed income tax cuts and tax hikes on oil and gas drillers, on tobacco products, wine and beer.
Lawmakers like Republican Senate President Larry Obhof praised the budget for being fiscally responsible.
“This budget is not pain free. Many government agencies, including the Senate, will see substantial cuts,” he said.
The budget lawmakers passed, however, included cuts and restrictions to the Medicaid program. Kasich rejected those, as part of a record 47 budget vetoes. That led to a showdown between Kasich and the Republican-dominated Legislature. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger indicated those vetoes were not going to be allowed to stand.
“There’s some issues members are extremely passionate about,” he said.
Indeed, legislators in the House and Senate came back in late summer to override six of those vetoes, most dealing with Medicaid. But they didn’t override the biggest one that would have frozen Medicaid expansion enrollment. They could still override those vetoes any time before the end of 2018.
What Else Passed?
Lawmakers also passed a $581 million workers' compensation budget that shortened times for processing disability cases but added health, wellness and safety education. But it didn’t contain the most controversial proposed change that would have blocked benefits for undocumented workers.
Ohioans got a break in August when they sent their kids back to school after a law was passed that allowed a sales tax holiday on clothing and selected school items. The last time the state allowed one was back in 2015.
Alex Burnka of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants says Ohioans saved $3.3 million back then. The non-partisan Legislative Services Commission said the holiday would cost $14.7 million over the tax-holiday weekend but Burnka says he thinks there is something else to consider.
“You know they are getting that savings on the textbook but they are also buying some food, some groceries or other items that are not exempt,” Burnka said.
Stiffer penalties for attackers
Ohio also has a new law that imposes longer prison sentences on attackers who intentionally disfigure their victims by using accelerants to set them on fire. It’s a measure known as Judy’s Law, named after Columbus resident Judy Milanowski who was seriously burned by her ex-boyfriend and suffered in a hospital for nearly two years before dying just a day before lawmakers passed the bill she and her family fought for. Kasich was surrounded by her family as he signed the bill into law.
“Maybe there’s more we can do. Maybe there’s more we can do to think about how we can provide a safe haven, not just a safe haven but a wonderful haven and incubator to grow women into all they can be because without them, we are missing. We are not complete.”
And Oct.7 will be the first official Moses Fleetwood Walker Day to celebrate his accomplishments as an Ohioan who became the first African-American player to play Major League Baseball. Passage of that bill came just days before the Cleveland Indians lost a heartbreaker to the New York Yankees in the American League championship.