Late last night, a Senate committee made final changes to its version of the State Operating Budget (House Bill 166), which must be passed by June 30 to fund State government for the next two years. Senators added numerous amendments on issues ranging from education to healthcare and taxes. Later today, the full 33-member Senate will vote on the bill.
Here’s a recap of some of the Senate changes that members will be voting on today:
Following the Governor’s lead, Senators included $550 million in one-time funds for wraparound services in Ohio schools. But the Senate also reallocated the $125 million added by House lawmakers for high-poverty districts to high-growth mostly suburban districts and to expand private school vouchers. Neither chamber made any permanent changes to how schools are funded.
The Senate budget removes language in the House draft that would have ended Ohio’s experiment with state school takeovers. The Senate additionally adopted language changing Ohio’s graduation requirements and the measures included on school report cards. Those differences between the chambers will need to be worked out before final passage.
The Senate went along with the House plan to eliminate some tax breaks, like the one forprivate jet owners, but they fully restored a tax exemption for business owners on their first $250,000 in income, as well as breaks for aviation repair services and the sale offlight simulators. Senators rejected calls to make the Earned Income Tax Creditrefundable, a targeted approach to keep low-income workers from being taxed into poverty. Senate amendments include a new tax on vaping products and Senators went along House plans to tax Uber and Lyft rides.
Both the House and Senate have targeted Pharmacy Benefit Managers in their budget drafts, although the House effort to limit certain pricing practices is replaced in the Senate with audits and financial assistance to pharmacies. Both chambers include language to make healthcare pricing, particularly out-of-network charges, more transparent to consumers. The Senate also added $5 million in funding for so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” fake medical clinics where women are given misleading information and delayed in their efforts to seek abortion services.
The Senate rejected calls to include funding for local communities to prepare for an accurate Census count and removed funding added by the House for wage theft enforcement. The Senate also joined the Governor and House in modestly restoring funds for local governments, but added language that prevents cities from taxing executive retirement plans, which may undercut some of these funding gains.
After today’s Senate vote, the measure must go to a six-member House-Senate conference committee to work out differences between the Governor’s budget and the versions adopted by the two chambers. The House Speaker is suggesting that process may not even start until well into next week. The lack of urgency is concerning – if lawmakers cannot get a final bill to the Governor’s desk in the next 10 days, the state will no longer be able to pay its bills, potentially affecting millions of Ohioans.
We’ll keep you updated.
If you’d like to dig deeper into the Senate budget, here are some useful resources: