The Akron area will be well represented when a conference committee begins meeting Tuesday to hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget.
Four of the six committee members hail from the Akron area, with two from Summit County, one from Stark and one from Wayne.
“It’s an important responsibility,” said state Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, one of the conference committee members. “It’s particularly nice to be on the Summit County conference committee.”
The other local members of the conference committee, made up of three House and three Senate members with representation from both parties are: Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, the conference committee chairman; Sen. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton; and Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron. The two remaining committee members, Sen. Bill Coley and Rep. Jeff McClain are from the southern and northwest parts of the state.
Sawyer, who has decades of government experience at the local, state and national levels, said it’s unusual for the budget conference committee to have so many members from one area.
“There was a time — 30 years ago — when it would not have been such a surprise,” he said. “Between the four of us, we’ve got a lot of miles on us. I think we can be helpful. None of us are the kind of guys who go out and walk into a committee room with flamethrowers.”
Oelslager agreed the committee’s makeup is unique.
“I don’t ever recall a concentration from Northeast Ohio,” he said. “I think this is a first.”
The four, in fact, have a long history of working together, with their paths first crossing at the Statehouse in the early ’80s.
The conference committee will have a weighty workload when it begins meeting, tasked with reconciling budgets from the two chambers with vast differences, including in the areas of taxes and school funding.
One significant issue they won’t have to tackle, though, is Medicaid, with Amstutz and Sykes jointly sponsoring legislation last week to reform Medicaid and workplace programs. This is another example of the Akron-area contingent working together — and across the aisle.
Sawyer said his party’s priority for the two-year, $61.7 billion budget is trying to put more money into schools and local governments.
Oelslager said the GOP’s goals are job creation and workforce development.
The legislature faces a June 30 deadline for having a budget in place. Sawyer and Oelslager said the committee will want to give Gov. John Kasich at least four or five days to weigh the end product.
Oelslager, who has known Amstutz since the ’70, thinks the four Akron-area members’ experience and familiarity will help the process.
“Budget issues might become contentious,” he said. “With a foundation of trust, the system works out better. Partisan disagreements will not be personal. You will not see the viciousness you sometimes observe.”
Asked if the high level of representation would benefit the Akron area, Oelslager said, “It is your responsibility to study the issues of the budget carefully and to be conscious of the community you represent as you do that.”