Friday, Jun 23, 2017
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Race to budget bottom

Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio House and Senate have just a few days to work out the differences in their divergent — and flawed — budget proposals and enact a new two-year state spending plan.

If history is any guide, that reconciliation process will be ugly and haphazard. It will largely evade taxpayer scrutiny. And its end product will be a mammoth bill that many lawmakers will vote on without examining thoroughly (or at all), and that will do a lot of Ohioans more harm than good.

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The three budget plans are competing to see which can offer the biggest, most unnecessary, and most unfair tax cut. The $71.3 billion budget bill approved this week by the Senate includes $1.7 billion in net income tax reductions for individuals and small businesses — more than the House budget provides, but less than Governor Kasich seeks.

The Senate bill would provide an average tax cut of more than $10,000 a year for the richest 1 percent of Ohio taxpayers — who made at least $388,000 last year — according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. But the poorest 20 percent of state taxpayers would face higher taxes.

At least Mr. Kasich seeks to help pay for his regressive income tax cut by levying a reasonable, if still inadequate, severance tax on oil and natural gas production. The Republicans who dominate the House and Senate, more afraid of offending Columbus’ powerful fossil-fuel lobby than the governor of their own party, won’t hear of any severance tax increase.

Similarly, the governor proposes raising taxes on tobacco products, including a $1 per pack increase for cigarettes, to $2.25. That move would improve public health. Again, though, House members, and the interest groups they protect, want no part of that plan. Senators passed a 40-cent cigarette tax hike.

Mr. Kasich also would raise taxes on some large businesses — another proposal the Senate rejected. But the Senate bill maintains and even increases corporate special-interest tax breaks.

The House and Senate budget bills both properly continue Governor Kasich’s Obamacare-funded expansion of Ohio’s Medicaid program of low-income health care. At the same time, the Senate measure includes onerous new spending cuts for Medicaid that largely would blunt the benefits of the expansion.

And while they are busy cutting taxes for the wealthiest Ohioans, lawmakers are ignoring their opportunity — and duty — to restore spending on essential services for children, working families, veterans, and old, poor, disabled, and mentally ill people, along with aid to local governments, that they slashed from previous budgets.

To the contrary, they would make things worse: For example, the Senate budget cuts funding in half for the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, which helps low-income and homeless people in urban and rural areas find affordable housing.

Like most catchall budget legislation, the Senate budget includes plenty of noxious provisions that have nothing to do with spending or taxing. It maintains the Statehouse assault on home rule, financially punishing local communities such as Toledo that operate traffic cameras, and restricting communities’ ability to require the hiring of local workers for publicly funded construction projects.

Among other junk in the Senate budget that needs to come out: A provision that would eliminate the already limited access Ohio journalists have to inspect records of concealed-carry gun permits. An amendment that would allow business lobbies to use member dues for “dark money” political campaign donations. And limits on student testing that would weaken the state’s use of the important Common Core academic standards.

As Governor Kasich continues his undeclared but increasingly likely presidential campaign for 2016, he still needs to pay attention to his day job. Overseeing adoption of a new state budget that combines the best features — such as they are — of his and the General Assembly’s plans, instead of accepting a lowest-common-denominator scheme that will damage Ohio’s people and economy, would demonstrate executive leadership worthy of national attention.

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