COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court today upheld Gov. John Kasich’s move to have a quasi-legislative budgetary panel essentially expand eligibility for Medicaid after the General Assembly controlled by his fellow Republicans balked.
By a vote of 4-3, the court found that several conservative lawmakers and two Right to Life organizations in Cincinnati and Cleveland failed to show that the Ohio Controlling Board acted beyond its authority when it voted 5-2 to draw down nearly $2.6 billion in federal funds to pay for the addition of an estimated 275,000 Ohioans to the Medicaid rolls.
“Although this case arises in the context of a complex social and political debate, our task is limited,” wrote Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor for the majority. “Quite simply, a single question of law is presented to us: Did the Ohio Controlling Board violate (state law) by approving the Ohio Department of Medicaid’s request for increasing appropriation authority…?”
The majority’s answer to that question was no.
The plaintiffs had argued that the General Assembly had made its intent known when it stripped Mr. Kasich’s proposed expansion out of the state budget and then inserted language to prohibit expansion by other means. But Mr. Kasich exercised his line-item veto power to strike the prohibition from the final budget before he signed it into law.
Therefore, the court found, there was no legislative intent. To decide otherwise, it said would mean the General Assembly would operate as a “statutory negation of the governor’s constitutional powers.”
The chief justice was joined in the majority by Justices Paul Pfeifer, William O’Neill, and Judith Lanzinger.
Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon Kennedy, and Judith French dissented, all saying they would have dismissed the case outright.
“The General Assembly has both the incentive to protect its prerogatives and the institutional mechanisms to do so,” Justice O’Donnell wrote. “The case involves an impermissible judicial foray into the province of the legislature and raises a political question that is not justiciable and which we ought not to answer.”
So, despite the divided final decision, none of the justices sided with the opponents of the controlling board’s action.