The Ohio House and Senate failed to strike a deal on the state operating and workers’ compensation budgets this weekend and instead took unusual steps to keep state government open for the next 17 days.
In a late night session peppered with disappointment and harsh words, the Senate voted unanimously Saturday in favor of the interim measures to extend state operations as well as the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. The House followed suit on Sunday.
It is the first time since 2009 that lawmakers have missed the legal deadline to adopt an operating budget.
"While I am disappointed that the budget process has extended beyond July 1st, I want assure all Ohioans that state services will not be interrupted in any way,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement late Sunday. “The House and the Senate passed similar budget proposals, and they both share the principles outlined in my executive budget proposal. I urge the legislative conference committee to continue negotiations and pass a full budget promptly."
On Sunday night, DeWine signed Senate Bill 171, the state operating interim budget, and Senate Bill 172, the Bureau of Workers' Compensation interim budget, as passed by the Ohio Senate and Ohio House of Representatives.
The unusual twist is the fight over the budget hasn’t been between Democrats and Republicans – it’s friction between the Republicans in the House and Senate.
Senate Finance Chairman Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, said the conference committee tasked with hammering out a compromise budget bill couldn’t decide which version of the bill to start with — the House or Senate. He accused the House members of taking steps to hide amendments. “Until about 9:30 tonight we, the Senate, were not able to access the amendments of the House members,” he said. “You need time to read the amendments.”
House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my life….I think that’s an excuse for continual procrastination.”
He said it appeared the two chambers had just a few remaining issues to work out but talks broke down and “people started backing up like they didn’t want to sit down again to finish. It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, said he is “disappointed that we are still here and we didn’t cross the finish line….we’ll be back up here next week and we’ll continue to serve every single Ohioan.”
The state budget bill lays out how Ohio will spend roughly $141 billion over two years, with the biggest chunk of that going toward Ohio Medicaid, a state and federally funded health care program for 2.8 million low-income and disabled Ohioans. The state’s new fiscal year begins today, July 1.
In a shift from recent years, the budget boosts spending for foster care, mental health services for children, K-12 education, environmental protection of Lake Erie and other waterways and legal representation for people too poor to afford a lawyer.
Householder issued a statement late Saturday: “While we would have preferred to have wrapped up work on the budget this weekend, we are committed to continuing to work with the Senate on the few issues that remain to be resolved for the operating budget. Senate President Obhof and I spoke tonight. We share the goals of meaningful tax relief, government reform and funding essential services. The House looks forward to passing a balanced, responsible budget plan for the people of Ohio as expeditiously as possible.”
Householder said he hopes a budget deal can be reached before July 17.
House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, said in a written statement: “In a state with one party rule, passing a budget should be easy, but for this Republican majority, petty politics always seems to get in the way of working together. Failing to pass a long-term budget is a dereliction of our constitutional duty and a broken promise to Ohio taxpayers. I seriously question the ability of this majority to work in good faith to pass a responsible budget.”
Taxes, health care, schools main issues
Points of contention over the operating budget include taxes, health care and education.
The fight over the two-year BWC budget centers around whether it should include House-backed policy changes such as requiring injured workers to declare their immigration status and whether post traumatic stress disorder among police and firefighters should be covered as an on-the-job condition.
The House on Sunday rejected Senate changes to the BWC budget bill, sending it to a conference committee to work out a compromise.
In March, the same friction between the House and Senate lead to lawmakers missing a deadline to adopt the state transportation budget. The two chambers fought over how much to increase the state gas tax. They finally agreed to raise the gas tax 10.5 cents per gallon. The increase takes effect Monday.
Lawmakers also are still at odds over a controversial energy bill that seeks to bailout two nuclear power plants that are slated for closure. First Energy Solutions, which owns the plants, has asked for a decision on government subsidies by June 30 but House Bill 6 is still pending in the Senate.
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