Kasich’s budget gets another shot

Senate could restore Medicaid, tax plans stripped by House


The state’s next biennial budget bill on Friday moved over to the Senate, where Gov. John Kasich is expected to try to reinstate some of the initiatives that were thrown out by his fellow Republicans in the House vote.

The $61.5 billion, two-year budget omitted his plans to extend Medicaid health coverage to thousands more low-income residents, as well as plans to impose an increased tax on oil and gas exploration, and to revise public education funding. The measure passed the House by 61-35 on Thursday with the support of one Democratic lawmaker and now goes to the GOP-dominated Senate, where more changes and hearings are expected.

The Senate is tentatively set to vote on the 2014-15 budget on June 5.

State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), who will lead a finance subcommittee on education funding, said he’s already heard that the governor’s office wants to reinstate some of his ideas for primary and secondary education funding.

“I think the House has done some good work on the education budget, generally. I have talked to the administration the last couple of weeks; there are changes to their original proposal that they would like the Senate to consider,” Mr. Gardner said.

“[Mr. Kasich] wants the senators to also consider the work the administration put in to develop a proposal, and I think we owe the governor an opportunity,” Mr. Gardner said. “It’s very possible there will be a combination of what the governor prefers and the House prefers.”

Mr. Kasich’s funding plan would have increased basic aid to schools by 6 percent in the first year of the two-year budget and 3.2 percent in the second, but many districts — including Toledo Public Schools — would have gotten no increase in funds in the first year. The House plan provides less money overall, but more districts would see increases. TPS would see a 6 percent increase in the first year under the House-passed budget.

Much of the focus of the budget was the tug-of-war over abortion rights.

Abortion opponents succeeded in adding amendments to reduce the ability of Planned Parenthood to qualify for state funds to administer women’s health services other than abortion, establish new regulatory requirements for abortion clinics seeking to get waivers from the requirement of having a “transfer agreement,” and establishing a program to allow funding of pregnancy centers that counsel women on alternatives to abortions.

“We’re thankful and very appreciative to a General Assembly that’s helping us identify ways to help moms, and especially birth moms,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the budget will restrict access to contraceptives, cancer screenings, and other vital health care for women.

“Ohio women need Governor Kasich to stop these dangerous attacks on women’s health care. We need him to speak out against these budget provisions and to line-item veto them if they reach his desk,” she said.

The House handed the governor a defeat on his request to accept federal funds — some $13 billion over seven years — to serve an additional 366,000 people under Medicaid, the federal medical program for low-income people. To qualify for the funds, Mr. Kasich wanted to increase the threshold of eligibility, from 100 percent to 138 percent of the poverty income level, but conservatives balked at the move, which involved participating in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The GOP caucus softened its rejection of the governor’s plan with an amendment to give lawmakers time to study the issue and let the state to pursue other options.

The change had the reluctant support of Democrats, who earlier Thursday had tried unsuccessfully to restore Mr. Kasich’s proposal into the budget.

State Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township) said she’s going to establish study groups to help members understand the intricacies of Medicaid.

“We need to take some time to study what process might be best for Ohioans to use,” Ms. Sears said.

She said there is a waiver process that will allow the state to tap into federal funds. It would focus not only on providing care but on creating programs that help Medicaid recipients get off the program.

She said it is not widely known that Ohio has one of the best-run Medicaid programs in the country. “We need to get folks educated on what kind of reform we’ve done,” Ms. Sears said.

State Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon) said, “If history is any example, the Senate will act as a meat grinder, and in all likelihood the budget will look very different coming out of the Senate than going in.”

He said he is hopeful about the focus on Medicaid in the coming summer and fall.

“Whether it will be what the governor wanted, I don’t know. If we fail in this regard, we’re forgoing $13 billion over the next seven years,” Mr. Szollosi said.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com  or 419-724-6058.