The Ohio House passes its appropriations bill, to the protest of some GOP lawmakers

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Ohio House lawmakers from both parties voted 75-19 to pass a nearly $2 billion package of appropriations for a slew of regional and local projects Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the proposal was first made publicly available.

HB 2 allocates $350 million to local community investment projects through excess money from the state budget.

Across the state, local communities would get hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of dollars for everything from welcome centers and community parks to bridge rehabs and pickleball courts. It includes a $5 million budget line for renovations to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Some of the appropriations for southeast Ohio include:

  • $2.5 million to build the Athens Regional Training Center for public safety agencies
  • $2.5 million to upgrade the Ohio University Airport
  • $1.5 million to transform the Village of Racine Entertainment District and Streetscape
  • $1.5 million to construct an additional facility at the Pennsville Volunteer Fire Department Inc.
  • $1 million to create the Meigs County Transportation Hub
  • $500,000 to support the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks Food Sector Accelerator Project
  • $500,000 to repurpose the historic Stanberry Building into a healthcare clinic
  • $350,000 to build a new Decatur Township building
  • $250,000 to renovate the Nelsonville-York Elementary School playground
  • $250,000 to revitalize the 1872 Hall Complex
  • $250,000 to modernize the Meigs County Fairgrounds
  • $250,000 to design and construct the Morgan County Emergency Communications Center
  • $250,000 to modernize the Morgan County Fairgrounds
  • $139,731 to add a shelter and kayak launch at the City of Nelsonville Dog Park
  • $100,000 to add sports infrastructure at the Buchtel Village Park

Aside from the one-time money, HB 2 also outlines another $1.65 billion in bonded—or borrowed—funds toward Ohio’s colleges and its jails, among other institutions. Ohio State University alone is earmarked for $76.5 million, largely for demolitions and renovations.

The bill creates a jail facility funding program.

After the session adjourned, Stephens said that he feels good about the bill being sent to the Ohio Senate. “It’s really going to set Ohio apart, and it’s going to be all parts of Ohio, from every region, so I’m really excited,” he said.

House Democrats, like Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Westlake), worked on the bill and backed it, too.

“I’m really proud of the work we did to put people over politics and to put money back into the hands of our constituents,” Sweeney said.

HB 2 got no public testimony prior to passage, having cleared committee unanimously earlier in the day. But Stephens said lawmakers involved in putting the proposal together have been having conversations with local governments for months.

“Maybe not necessarily here, in a hearing room at the Statehouse,” he said.

HB 2 now faces the Ohio Senate, which has its own $350 million to earmark.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) already signaled he isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with the House’s version—or its fast-tracked timeline. In a letter to senators, Huffman said it deserves further debate.

GOP lawmakers look to be recognized on the floor of the Ohio House at a session
GOP lawmakers look to be recognized on the floor of the Ohio House at a session on Feb. 7, 2024. [Sarah Donaldson | Statehouse News Bureau]

Some Ohio House members say politics at play over the appropriations bill

But disagreement over the bill wasn’t reserved for the Ohio Senate.

All of the 19 ‘no’ votes on House Bill 2 came from Republicans, most of whom opposed Stephens in his bid for house speaker. When the bill was brought forward Wednesday, at least six of them stood frequently to be recognized—some calling out to Stephens, to no avail.

Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) said they were being purposely ignored.

“If you are a member who voted for the speaker last January, you did very well in this bill. Millions and millions, tens of millions of dollars,” Stewart said after the vote. “If you are a member who did not vote for the speaker, you are getting the table scraps.”

Stewart backed Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) in the speaker’s race. Merrin said Wednesday he, alongside some of his colleagues, were also shut down when they tried to force a vote on Senate Bill 83, GOP-backed legislation to address concerns conservatives have about higher education. It’s been on the house side for months.

“The only people who oppose it are the Democrats and effectively Jason Stephens, so what we have right now it absolute tyranny where Republican members are not recognized on the floor,” Merrin said.

But from the dais, Stephens said he saw it differently, and was nonchalant when asked about whether he was trying to stymie those in his caucus from a vote on SB 83.

“They were just being ornery because this is the last session before the primary,” Stephens said. “It has been blatantly obvious that some members of our caucus are working actively against Republican members of this caucus and that was just showmanship, and it was just silly.”

Merrin was among the 75 ‘yes’ votes on HB 2.