COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich closed his State of the State address last week with an appeal for bipartisan cooperation. He may need it.
If he wants to get his proposed $63.3 billion, two-year budget with its many interconnected puzzle pieces through this General Assembly, he may well have to cobble together a coalition of votes from both sides of the aisle.
“That’s highly likely,” said Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), the third highest-ranking Republican in the House.
“In any budget, there are things you hate, but the Medicaid issue as it relates to expansion and all of the federal issues with the Affordable Care Act make it really hard for the [GOP] caucus to gets its arms wrapped around it,” Ms. Sears said.
Democrats generally applaud Mr. Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid, while many conservative Republicans have either flatly ruled it out or, like Ms. Sears, are struggling with it.
Republicans generally love the across-the-board tax cuts on individual and small business income, but Democrats have characterized them as a giveaway to the rich.
Then there’s Mr. Kasich’s broad expansion of the sales tax base to include haircuts, cable TV, investment and debt counseling, accounting, dating services, lobbying, legal services, magazine subscriptions, and numerous other things. Republicans and Democrats alike want to whittle away at that list.
The governor’s plan to raise taxes on a burgeoning shale oil and natural gas industry in eastern Ohio to help underwrite a net $1.4 billion income tax cut over three years also divides lawmakers.
Republicans shelved the idea when he first proposed it last year out of fear it could kill a drilling boom before it can take hold. Democrats believe the increase is too small compared to rates in other states.
Lawmakers from both sides have expressed interest in providing more money to K-12 schools and local governments than Mr. Kasich proposes, particularly after the bruising both took in the current two-year budget.
All of these strings are entangled throughout the 4,200-page budget.
If you increase spending for schools and local governments, it may reduce the size of or eliminate an automatic, surplus-driven income tax rebate now estimated to be about $400 million.
If you cut too much from the sales tax expansion list or shelve the gas and oil severance tax again, then Mr. Kasich’s proposed cuts in the income tax and sales tax rates start to unravel.
Or if you remove the expansion in Medicaid eligibility to cover hundreds of thousands more uninsured Ohioans, the state gives up federal funds, expected new tax revenues, and anticipated savings that affect the budget’s bottom line.
Mr. Kasich’s fellow Republicans control the House 60-39. They have an even stronger hold on the upper chamber where there are 23 Republicans to the Democrats’ 10.
But if all of these controversial elements remain in one budget bill, he may have trouble getting the necessary 50 votes in the House and 17 in the Senate for passage without crossing party lines.
The House recently spun off Mr. Kasich’s proposal to borrow against the Ohio Turnpike from the separate transportation budget so that the issues could be studied separately. Ms. Sears said there was talk of doing the same with the Medicaid expansion, but it would be difficult to extricate its many tentacles from the rest of the budget.
Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney (D., Cincinnati) said it’s too early to know how all of this will play out. A final budget must reach Mr. Kasich’s desk by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
“The hearings in the House are really at a preliminary stage,” he said. “We haven’t been real substantive about the bill in the Senate. My guess is there are anywhere from 18 to 20 House Republicans who don’t like the Medicaid expansion.”
The need for Democratic votes then could create an opportunity for negotiation on things such as the tax package and school and local government spending.
“At every opportunity I’ve asked for the governor to reach out to Senate Democrats,” Mr. Kearney said. “I’m still waiting.”
Mr. Kasich made a similar plea for partisan cooperation during his 2012 State of the State in Steubenville coming off the defeat Republicans suffered three months earlier when voters rejected their Senate Bill 5 restrictions on the collective bargaining power of public employees.
“You know, we’ve got to look for ways to work together,” Mr. Kasich said Tuesday in Lima. “If we do, we reduce poverty, give opportunity. We can grow jobs. We can educate our children. And you know the great thing is, when [people] find out about Ohio, when they come here and they spend the weekend, they start thinking about moving here, and it’s because we got it right.
“If we united and we stay together, nothing, but nothing, can stop us from becoming the greatest state in the greatest country in the world,” he said.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.