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Published: Saturday, 4/28/2007

Backers to push funding for entire Ohio health plan

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Backers of Gov. Ted Strickland's plan to expand access to health coverage to all of Ohio's uninsured children and many of their parents said yesterday they'll continue to urge the Republican-controlled General Assembly to fund the entire package.

The House Finance Committee is expected to vote today on a two-year, $52.1 billion budget that adopts most of what the Democratic governor wanted to do when it comes to insuring children, but rejects many of other proposed Medicaid expansions, particularly for adults. The full House is expected to vote Tuesday to send the budget to the Senate.

"I do not think that this is over yet," said Col Owens, co-chairman of the Ohio Family Coverage Coalition. "[Expanded coverage] is good for the economy. There's an economic study from the Ohio State University that shows that if the state invests $1 in Medicaid, the economic impact in the community is $3.15 roughly because of the federal funds it attracts and the normal economic multiplier effect."

"If they put $50 million into this program to restore coverage [for 27,000 working-poor parents previously cut from the Medicaid rolls], the benefit is $160 million," he said. "That's pretty powerful."

The budget, about $785 million smaller than the governor's proposal, gives Mr. Strickland what he wants in terms of expanding government health-care insurance to about 20,000 uninsured children in families with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, about $62,000 a year for a family of four.

It largely adopts his proposals to fund K-12 education and securitize the state's long-term settlement with tobacco companies for an immediate $5 billion cash infusion to finance school construction and indirectly underwrite a major property-tax cut for senior citizen and disabled homeowners.

It outdoes his proposals for higher education by creating a $100 million scholarship program for those studying math, science, technology, and engineering and by increasing subsidies to colleges and universities by 2 percent and 10 percent respectively over the next two years.

Rep. Matt Dolan (R., Novelty) said Mr. Strickland handed Republicans an initial budget plan that embraced much of what they'd done in the past.

"This budget completely accepted our tax reform policy [in the prior budget]," he said. "This budget accepts managed care in Medicaid. This budget reflects the building blocks formula for K-12 [school] money. I think this budget reflects the change in direction that Republicans put in place [two years ago]."

Republicans have balked, however, in two key areas where Mr. Strickland strayed from their playbook. They've restored the school voucher program that he wanted to kill that pays to send some students to private schools, and they've wiped out a moratorium on the expansion in the number of charter schools. A budget must be enacted by July 1.

Among other changes, the panel's proposed budget would:

•Require the state to wait until the promised debt service savings expected to underwrite the property-tax cut actually materialize before the program begins.

•Revise language approved last year that established a process for Lucas County to consider raising the hotel tax to build an arena and expand its convention center. The state's bond counsel had raised concerns that the prior language may have been too obvious in creating a class consisting of one county, a move that could have raised a constitutional red flag.

•Slightly increase the amount Mr. Strickland proposed funneling into funds benefiting local governments beginning in January.

•Protect a cigarette tax exemption for those bringing up to $300 worth or cigarettes into Ohio, but would limit the exemption only to those living in counties bordering states with cigarette taxes at least 90 cents lower than Ohio's, namely Kentucky. Mr. Strickland wanted to kill the exemption outright.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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