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House cuts Medicaid rolls by 25,000 in budget plan

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Jacquelyn Mullins of Toledo waits to board one of three buses that carried demonstrators to Columbus to protest planned cuts in human services in Ohio's two-year, $51.3 billion budget.

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COLUMBUS - The thousands of protesters outside had long since gone home by the time the House voted 53-46 last night to slash 25,000 from the Medicaid rolls and kill the health program of last resort for 15,000 poor, medication-dependent Ohioans.

Republicans touted the budget, especially its overhaul of income and business taxes, as a building block for the economic turnaround of Ohio.

"We've been stuck in neutral for about a decade, and we can't keep lurching back and forth,'' said Rep. Jim Trakas (R., Independence). "This is a policy statement that we're going to try to take this state forward. Ohio is back in business.''

Democrats accused the GOP of placing too much emphasis on taxes and too little on other building blocks for the future by providing a below-inflation increase for K-12 education and nearly flat-funding colleges and universities.

"There are tax changes for the upper 5 percent [of income-tax payers] and some corporations, but the average individual and family will have higher electrical bills, beer and wine taxes, and higher property taxes because of state government budget cuts, which will more than offset the small reductions in the personal income tax," said Rep. Dale Miller (D., Cleveland).

The $51.3 billion, two-year plan would reduce income taxes 21 percent across the board over the next five years, and gradually replace the corporate franchise and tangible personal property taxes with a controversial new business tax on gross sales.

In all, the plan would raise about $1 billion less over the next two years than the current system. The budget raises taxes on cigarettes from 55 cents per pack to $1, doubles beer and wine taxes, raises a tax on electricity consumption 30 percent, and retains half of the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax surcharge slated to expire on June 30.

It cuts revenue-sharing subsidies to local governments, caps tuition hikes at colleges and universities at 6 percent, and makes several cuts in the massive Medicaid program.

"If we don't get [Medicaid] under control, tax reform would not matter,'' said Rep. Chuck Calvert (R., Medina), House Finance chairman.

Wayne Coleman, 57, a former bricklayer from Toledo, was among about 130 who boarded three buses in Toledo for the Statehouse rally.

Once suicidal, he said he relied on the now endangered Disability Medical Assistance program several years ago for anti-depressant medication. At the time he lived in a homeless shelter and was waiting to qualify for Medicaid. Today he is vice president at the Thomas M. Wernert Center, a Toledo leadership training program.

The scaled-back, transitional program would end under the budget for an annual savings of about $70 million. It serves about 15,000 medication-dependent Ohioans with virtually no income who have to yet to qualify for another government program.

One Democrat, Rep. Dixie Allen (D. Dayton), joined 52 Republicans in sending the plan to the Senate. Eight Republicans, including Reps. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), Steve Buehrer (R., Delta), and John Willamowski (R., Lima) in northwest Ohio, opposed the measure.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com or

614-221-0496.

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