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Published: Tuesday, 10/15/2013

Leaders: Ohio Controlling Boardcan decide Medicaid expansion

Governor would need 1 from GOP to join Democrats on issue

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Former Ohio budget directors for Republican and Democratic governors said Tuesday that Gov. John Kasich is probably on sound footing in asking a seven-member panel to clear the path for Medicaid expansion absent a vote of the entire General Assembly.

“In my mind, this isn’t going around the legislature,” said Tom Johnson, former budget director for Republican Gov. Bob Taft from 1999 to 2006 who served briefly as chairman of the Ohio Controlling Board.

“The legislature has not acted upon this,” he said. “Just because it’s controversial doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. There are the courts, other ways to ultimately decide whether you can do this or not. I think you could do it.”

The controlling board consists of seven members — four Republicans, two Democrats, and one board president representing the governor. Assuming the two Democrats join Mr. Kasich’s representative in voting “yes” on Monday, Mr. Kasich will need a Republican vote to make it happen.

This maneuver has been used before to draw down federal funds that became available between budget votes of the General Assembly, including approval to begin spending a $400 million Race to the Top education grant in 2010.

But the $2.56 billion that Mr. Kasich is requesting for the first 18 months of funding for Medicaid expansion is believed to be one of the broadest, if not the broadest, use of the board’s authority to date.

It would enable the Republican governor to pay for expanding Medicaid eligibility over the next year and a half to cover roughly 275,000 mostly childless working adults earning up to 38 percent over the federal poverty level. That’s about $32,000 a year for a family of four.

“Historically, the legislature envisioned the controlling board as exactly what it is titled, a board that would control expenditures of the executive branch,” said J. Pari Sabety, former budget director for Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland from 2007 to 2011.

“There have been observers who have wondered whether the controlling board, in fact, risks crossing separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches,” she said.

“Having said that, it is a convenient vehicle to implement policy changes when circumstances change during the two years a biennial budget is in force.”

The move likely will put state Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island), who doubles as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, in the rare position of being on the same page as Mr. Kasich.

He is expected to join the other Democrat on the panel, state Sen. Tom Sawyer (D., Akron), and Mr. Kasich’s board president, Randy Cole, in the “yes” column.

Mr. Kasich will then seek one Republican vote. Assuming the House or Senate Republican leaders don’t change their board membership before that meeting, that “yes” vote would have to come from Rep. Ron Amstutz (R., Wooster), Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R., Clarksville), Sen. Bill Coley (R., West Chester), or Sen. Chris Widener (R., Springfield).

Mr. Amstutz, sharply critical of the governor’s maneuver last week, and Mr. Rosenberger are currently locked in a battle to succeed House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) in 2015. Given how the most vocal legislative GOP supporter of Medicaid expansion, Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), has faced a backlash from the right, it’s considered unlikely either would vote for expansion.

Mr. Coley also has been a vocal critic of expansion. That leaves Mr. Widener, who is term-limited as of the end of 2016.

The Kasich administration wants to accept $561.7 million to fund the expansion through the end of the current fiscal year ending June 30 and then $1.99 billion for the next year ending June 30, 2015.

The federal government has promised to pay all of the costs associated with the expansion population for the first three years, but the reimbursement rate will gradually drop to 90 percent after that.

“He has turned his back on his own state party, the national Republican Party, and, by our polling, 75 percent of the registered Republicans in the state,” said Tom Zawistowski, president of the Portage County Tea Party and former president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, the closest Ohio has to a statewide tea party organization.

“He has simply betrayed the 66 percent of all Ohioans who voted to stop Obamacare by passing the Ohio Health Care Amendment with majorities in all 88 counties in 2011,” he said.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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