COLUMBUS — The $62 billion, two-year budget that Gov. John Kasich will sign into law Sunday feeds the “momentum” Ohio needs as it recovers from what he characterized as a “meltdown” that greeted him when he took office, the governor said Friday.
But in the eyes of Mr. Kasich’s only announced Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald, it is a “train wreck” containing an “indefensible” tax shift and an “attack” on women.
In what could have been the first campaign event of the 2014 gubernatorial election, Mr. Kasich and Mr. FitzGerald, a Cuyahoga County executive, held dueling news conferences to paint very differing pictures of the priorities this budget represents.
“I have not checked all around, but I think it’s probably the biggest tax cut of any state in America … ,” Mr. Kasich said.
He was joined by Ohio Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina) and House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina).
“We intend to incentivize for those who take risks, those who create jobs, and those who work … ,” the Republican governor said. He said those who criticize the tax plan are among those responsible for nearly 400,000 jobs and a nearly $8 billion [budget] hole under the prior administration.
“We are moving in the right direction on taxes,” Mr. Kasich said.
The budget promises a net tax cut of $2.6 billion over three years. It phases in a 10 percent income tax cut across all brackets over three years and cuts income taxes for small business owners by 50 percent on their first $250,000.
But there is some trade-off.
Beginning Sept. 1, the state sales tax rate will climb from 5.5 cents on the dollar to 5.75 cents a dollar.
It also draws the line on future state subsidization of local property tax rates.
The state no longer will pay the first 12.5 percent of the local tax burden on any new levies passed through the property tax rollback program. That will begin with new levies passed this November.
The state continues to make those payments to local governments on existing levies and their renewals. “To raise sales taxes and … for the state to walk away from their commitment [on property tax levies] means that ordinary Ohioans, working-class Ohioans, [and] poor Ohioans are getting stuck with an enormous bill,” Mr. FitzGerald said. “The wealthiest Ohioans are getting an average of a $6,000 tax cut.”
Mr. Kasich has been urged by some to use his line-item veto power to strike several provisions, including those seen as restricting abortions, blocking moves toward Medicaid expansion, and allowing local governments to meet behind closed doors to discuss tax incentives for business.
Mr. FitzGerald said he would veto all the abortion-related provisions if he were governor, including language making it tougher for abortion clinics to get transfer agreements with local hospitals that they must have to keep their doors open and a provision that all but eliminates family planning funding for Planned Parenthood.
“It’s not just forcing women to have ultrasounds,” he said. “It’s not just the fact they’re placing basically a gag rule on rape crisis centers. It’s the way this whole thing was done, and it’s not being done just in Ohio. It’s being done across the country.”
Mr. Kasich declined to say how he would exercise his line-item veto pen. But when asked about the abortion provisions, he said, “Just keep in mind that I’m pro-life.”
The budget he will sign lacks the Medicaid eligibility expansion he sought.
“Medicaid, in my opinion, will come, and it will come this year,” Mr. Batchelder said.
He added, however, that it will not be 100 percent of what Mr. Kasich wanted, which was expansion to include about 275,000 mostly working adults without children who earn up to 38 percent above the federal poverty level.
“I’m not sure if there’s been a budget that was passed where a governor, especially a governor whose own party has control of the legislature, has many of his initiatives tossed out,” Mr. FitzGerald said.
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