Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Rapture in Columbus

SURELY the End Times have arrived and all is right with God and mankind - in Ohio's capital, at least. What else could explain passage by the state House of Representatives of a $52.1 billion state budget by a vote of 97 to 0?

That's right, not a dissenting voice - zero, zip, nada - over what is usually one of the most controversial products of an intensely partisan General Assembly, the blueprint that will guide state spending priorities for the two years beginning July 1.

Bipartisan fever was so infectious that majority Republicans and minority Democrats spent the entire floor debate on Tuesday thanking each other for cooperation. Democrats offered not one adverse amendment; they had already achieved many of their aims during the committee process with - Praise the Lord! It's a miracle! - an earlier unanimous vote.

The budget still must pass muster with the Senate, so Gov. Ted Strickland hasn't yet gotten all that he proposed in his inaugural State of the State speech in January. But the Democratic chief executive declared that what the House had wrought was good.

"We have much work ahead of us, but I am hopeful as the core priorities of my budget have been preserved," said Mr. Strickland, who must have imagined he was back in the Methodist pulpit to which he was ordained.

The governor had due cause to celebrate. The House retained his plan to "securitize" $6 billion of Ohio's tobacco settlement windfall to finance a major property tax cut for senior citizens and the disabled, and maintained a start on his goal of expanding Medicaid health coverage to 25,000 children.

It also bolsters funding for public schools, adds a whopping $587 million to the funding increase Mr. Strickland requested for state-supported colleges and universities, and added money for the Passport program for in-home care for seniors.

GOP lawmakers didn't give the governor everything, however. They thawed his proposed freeze in college tuition, toned down his children's insurance plan, and rejected an end to the state voucher program for private schools outside Columbus.

Nevertheless, the spirit of unanimity in which the budget was passed was a stunning departure from the sometimes vicious partisanship that has marred the legislative process over the past 16 years.

The difference, of course, was the election Nov. 7 of Mr. Strickland, which fundamentally altered the balance of power in state government. Republicans still have the voting majority in both the House and Senate, but, with a Democratic governor in the Statehouse, they can no longer run roughshod over the opposition without damaging their own cause.

Veteran observers of the legislature can't recall a time in more than 30 years when a budget moved ahead with less wrangling among lawmakers, For once they remembered that the process is supposed to be one of compromise rather than partisan strong-arming.

We aren't so optimistic that we believe this new-found spirit of comity in Columbus will last forever, but, for now, it's cool.

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