COLUMBUS — A sweeping state budget that would give residents an income tax cut while scrapping an expansion of Medicaid passed the Republican-controlled House Thursday night after lawmakers agreed to continue discussing health coverage for the poor.
The $61.5 billion, two-year budget rewrites Gov. John Kasich’s proposals for overhauling the state tax code and drops his plans to extend Medicaid health coverage to thousands more low-income residents.
The House voted 61-35 on the spending blueprint, which would begin July 1. The plan, with the support of one Democratic lawmaker, now goes to the GOP-dominated Senate, where more changes and hearings are expected.
State Rep. Tim Brown (R., Bowling Green) called the budget a “strong start with more work to be done.”
“Ohio is positively transitioning away from one of the worst recessions in our nation’s history and an $8 billion budget deficit. This is a strong recovery budget that adds money for those who continue to struggle by appropriating additional dollars for work force development, food pantries, mental health, addiction services, and early childhood development,” Mr. Brown said.
Representatives dumped a contentious provision approved by a House committee that would have barred instructors from distributing contraceptives or promoting what the provision referred to as “sexual gateway activities” in health education classes.
Other debate was focused on whether the state should move forward with expanding the federal-state Medicaid program under President Obama’s health-care law.
Roughly 366,000 low-income Ohio residents would be eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid, the health program for the poor that already provides care for one of every five residents in the state.
Instead, representatives unanimously approved an amendment to give lawmakers time to study the issue and allow the state to pursue other options.
The amendment directs administration officials to assist lawmakers in developing Medicaid reforms and to submit a Medicaid plan to the legislature by this fall. It says state lawmakers would have to sign off on any Medicaid proposal before it gets implemented.
The change had the reluctant support of Democrats, who earlier Thursday had tried unsuccessfully to restore Mr. Kasich’s proposal into the budget.
Democrats argued pursuing expansion was the best way to create new jobs, save state taxpayer dollars, and keep Ohio residents healthy.
State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) said Medicaid expansion would have helped 275,000 children, veterans, and senior citizens with health care.
“It’s unfortunate we did not get the Medicaid expansion into this budget. It will create a huge hardship.”
Rep. Michael Ashford (D., Toledo) said the budget rewards the rich while hurting schools and communities, and denies Medicaid expansion to working poor. “The right-wing legislative branch has gutted Medicaid expansion ... [and] despite state-wide support, House Republicans have chosen to deny health-care coverage to 275,000 Ohioans, they have cost Ohio 28,000 potential jobs, and now we will lose $13 billion over the next five years,” he said.