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Midterm budget heads to Kasich

Bill revises policies in 2-year spending plan

COLUMBUS -- Ohio lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to wide-ranging policy changes in the state's two-year budget as it approaches its halfway mark.

The bill includes $15 million for the state's brownfield revitalization program and $13 million to help the state implement Gov. John Kasich's proposal not to promote third-graders if they can't read at that stage.

It heads off a second-year $1.5 million budget cut at the state's consumer's counsel for residential utility customers.

The reading-competency guarantee is being debated in a separate bill, one of a number of measures spun off to deal with education, energy, taxes, and other issues that emerged from Mr. Kasich's midbudget review.

"We are on sound footing, and going forward we need to continue to maintain fiscal stability and at the same time help those most in need," said Sen. Chris Widener (R., Springfield), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Unlike the $55.8 billion two-year budget passed by lawmakers last year, House Bill 487 was far more about policy than numbers.

The Senate voted 24-8 and the House voted 53-38 to send the bill to Mr. Kasich.

Republicans generally were in support and Democrats generally were in opposition.

Mr. Kasich said his office is reviewing the changes that lawmakers made.

"We started the midbiennium review process several months ago in order to improve the way government operates so it can be a better steward of taxpayers' resources," he said. "It's been hard work and addressed a wide array of detailed and complex issues, but the end result is increased efficiency and increased common sense."

The measure did not face nearly as much controversy as normally accompanies a budget bill.

As Sen. Tom Sawyer (D., Akron), a "no" vote, put it, the bill was "not a whole lot of terribly ugly."

Among its many provisions, the bill adds $30 million for nursing homes that have met certain new standards.

The industry suffered significant cuts in the current two-year budget as the state shifted its long-term-care emphasis more toward in-home care.

Mr. Kasich has been adamant against the increased funding and will have the final say.

He can wield a line-item veto, striking specific language from budget bills without having to veto the entire measure.

The bill does not stop another round of budget cuts that face local governments and schools when the next fiscal year begins July 1.

"It's not so much what's in the bill," Mr. Sawyer said. "It's what's not in the bill."

As of the end of April, with two months left in the fiscal year, Ohio's tax collections were running roughly $350 million ahead of projections.

But litigation has held up an anticipated $500 million transfer into state coffers from JobsOhio, the state's private economic development entity. Its plan to pay $1.4 billion up front to the state to essentially lease future profits from the wholesale liquor business to fund its efforts faces a court challenge.

The bill also:

Contains $3 million, at the request of Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), for further testing and monitoring of algal growth in Lake Erie.

Provides $42 million for farmland preservation and other "green space" projects under the Clean Ohio program.

Makes it easier for Sylvania Township to ask voters independently from the city of Sylvania whether they want to secede from the Toledo Area Regional Transportation Authority.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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