Ohio Senate closes $1B gap

Adds $6M for opioid crisis

By Julie Carr Smyth

AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS– Senate Republicans in Ohio said Monday that their version of the state budget closes a projected $1 billion gap while preserving essential services and pumping more money into fighting the opioid crisis.

Senate President Larry Obhof said the Senate was proud it “found a way to do more with less,” while acknowledging the causes of Ohio’s lagging revenues are still a bit of a mystery.

“Let me be clear: This budget is not pain-free,” the Medina Republican said. “Many government agencies, including the Senate, see substantial cuts compared to prior versions of the bill. We worked with everyone, from higher education to health care, in an effort to identify savings responsibly and with the least impact on our citizens.”

Finance Chairman Scott Oelslager, a North Canton Republican, said most savings were achieved through administrative streamlining and eliminating earmarks, with some program cuts also included.

Of 610 school districts, 535 will see their funding retained or increased under the Senate’s plan. The plan proposes cuts of less than 1 percent to most of the remaining districts, many of which are shrinking.

The proposal spends $176 million on fighting the epidemic of addiction and death caused by heroin and prescription painkillers. That’s $6 million more than the House plan, with some spending reprioritized.

GOP Sen. Gayle Manning, of North Ridgeville, said the Senate budget moves much of that spending out of the general fund into alternative sources, including federal dollars.

The Senate plan also includes:

— Across-the-board agency cuts averaging 3 percent to 4 percent, for savings of $20 million;

— Additional targeted agency cuts gleaned with help from the administration of Republican Gov. John Kasich, worth $100 million;

— A $200 million Medicaid reduction while preserving coverage for the most vulnerable populations;

— $20 million in cuts to the prisons budget found by working with the department on savings;

— Increases in K-12 state aid of $154 million in the first year and $117 million in the second year;

— Restoring funds to foodbanks, breast and cervical cancer screening programs, and initiatives involving clean water and food safety

— Maintaining an increase in funding for early childhood programs and expanded eligibility for low-income families that could extend access to some 3-year-olds;

— The removal of a House-passed provision that allowed for unlimited tuition increases;

— Hikes in need-based financial aid to college students to more than $208 million over the two-year budget;

— Doubling the tax deduction families can take for college savings and for the ABLE savings program for families of children with disabilities;

— Incentives for agricultural job creation and rural economic development through what was previously known as the Rural Jobs Act;

— The extension of the sales tax holiday to 2018.

Online:

State budget documents: http://www.lsc.ohio.gov/budget/mainbudget.htm