Ohio Budget Passes Legislature, Heads To Kasich For Potential Veto Fight

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The clock is ticking for Gov. John Kasich who has until Friday night to sign the $65 billion state budget that not only fills a revenue shortfall but makes some major policy changes. And there’s at least one change that could set the stage for a veto fight. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports.

The budget bill headed to Kasich’s desk cuts government spending across the board, gets rid of several funds that support local governments, reduces the number of tax brackets, and invests more than $175 million in the opioid epidemic.

State lawmakers long ago stripped out an income tax cut proposed by Gov. John Kasich, which would have been paid for with hikes in sales, alcohol, cigarette and fracking taxes. But as Republican House Finance Chair Ryan Smith of Bidwell explained, there are plenty of other provisions in the bill that exceeds 4,700 pages. He added that the budget process was even more challenging given the simultaneous debate in Congress over health care changes.

“This report, which is our budget, is very responsible at a time where heightened uncertainty and not knowing exactly where we’re headed in the form of Medicaid out of Washington,” Smith said. “But it makes the necessary investments in basic services while also making additional investment in education and it takes a big step towards combatting our biggest challenge in this state.”

The billion dollar shortfall that opened up after the budget was first proposed in January had lawmakers scrambling to make cuts to state agencies. But Medicaid turned out to be the main topic of debate on the House and Senate. Democrats slammed the provision that freezes Medicaid enrollment for the expansion population next year. That’s for adults up to age 64 who earn less than 138% of the federal poverty level – $28,000 for a family of three.

Democratic Representative Emilia Sykes of Akron said cutting off access to Medicaid to that group would result in two things.

“First, people will die. People will die, I’m going to say that one more time, people will die,” Sykes said. “The second fact, this will cost more. People will die and this will cost more. These are the facts. That’s it.”

Democratic Representative Alicia Reece of Cincinnati suggested that the public might not fully realize the decisions their state lawmakers are making.

“While the world was watching Washington, everybody’s upset, everybody’s protesting, everybody’s calling, we were quietly coming in and cutting them at their needs as it relates to Medicaid cause everybody thought it was Washington so if we can just ease our way in we can get this stuff done and nobody will notice cause everybody’s because everybody is focused on Washington,” she said.

Medicaid expansion has been the cornerstone to Kasich’s time in office, propelling him into the national spotlight in the recent health care debate. He’s said it’s key to helping Ohio fight its deadly opioid crisis. During a media event in his office, Kasich was asked about the possibility of vetoing the provision.

“I’m not commenting on anything so forget it. We’ve got the House and Senate voting today, we’ll have plenty to say when the time is right,” Kasich told reporters.

But unlike with previous budgets, lawmakers are ready for the veto threat. Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and Senate President Larry Obhof have both warned that their members are ready to come back over the Independence Day week for a possible vote to override any veto.

“Well we have 59 on the board depending on the several provisions that might happen I don’t want to get ahead of myself, we don’t have any vetoes ahead of us but I think we can definitely come back if we have to,” Rosenberger said.

Obhof also seems to be comfortable with the possibility of having enough votes to overturn a Kasich veto.

He adds that the budget fills the gap left by revenue returns that are falling short of estimates and, aside from the more controversial changes, the plan is something most people can get behind.

“Despite challenging financial circumstances we were able to continue in the state’s priorities and I think this is going to keep Ohio on the right track,” Obhoff said last night.

Kasich has by midnight Friday evening to sign the bill and make any vetoes if necessary. The House and Senate would need a 3/5ths majority to override the governor’s veto. That means 60 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate.

Andy Chow is a reporter at the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau.