DeWine signs $3.5B Ohio capital budget noting a key difference from past spending measures

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has signed the $3.5 billion capital budget into law. Like previous capital budgets, this one includes money for improvements to public facilities and waterways but this one is different in one significant way.

DeWine said the state normally issues bonds to cover many of the improvements identified in previous capital budgets — but not this time.

“What’s unusual about this budget is, out of the $2.8 billion that can be bonded, we intend to pay for part, or possibly all of it, with cash. We believe this is the prudent thing to do,” DeWine said.

DeWine said the Ohio Legislature has already approved tapping into the state’s cash reserves to spend $1.5 billion dollars for items in this budget. He added it might be possible to use cash so the state would not have to issue more bonds. He said paying in cash could save taxpayers up to $1.6 billion in interest in coming years.

The budget includes money for mental and behavioral health treatment facilities, state parks, shoring up Ohio’s waterways and more. It also includes provisions for the planned Intel project in central Ohio.

The company announced earlier this year that it will invest more than $20 billion to build two new factories and to establish a new epicenter for advanced chipmaking in the Midwest. But there’s one hitch — the deal is based on U.S. Congress passing what’s known as the CHIPS Act and, so far, that hasn’t happened. DeWine urged Congress to come together to make that happen.

DeWine said the state can use one-time money that’s been earmarked for non-bondable items. The governor thanked Ohio lawmakers for passing the budget which he said “will make a tremendous impact and continue job growth in our state.”

The budget has its share of critics

But advocates for low-income Ohioans said this budget taps into money that should be used directly for food, housing and other needs for the state’s poorest residents, especially now when inflation is hitting them hard.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said the state still has $1.9 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act. She said that money was meant to help Ohio “recover, repay, restore, and rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic.” She called on DeWine to tap into $50 million of those funds to provide “immediate, emergency funding to move much-needed food out to food insecure Ohioans and $133 million in a longer-term investment to help us prepare our physical and human infrastructure to face the recession many economists estimate is just around the corner.”

“More than 200 statewide, regional and local organizations and nearly 600 individuals have signed an online petition urging immediate investments in Ohio’s food banks and other basic services that Ohioans with low and moderate incomes rely on. We are calling on Governor DeWine and members of the Ohio General Assembly to act, with urgency, to help us prevent hunger now and promote stability in the months ahead,” Hamler-Fugitt said.

Ohio Policy Matters Research Director Zach Schiller has also taken issue with this budget when it comes to the money set aside for projects related to Intel.

“The General Assembly should ensure that the maximum benefit to Ohio flows from the Intel project and that there is clear accountability for the extraordinary incentives awarded to Intel and its suppliers. As currently constructed, the legislation does not accomplish those goals,” Schiller said.