COLUMBUS — In a move to create room for more spending, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is asking lawmakers to approve the transfer of $1.2 billion in projected year-end budget surpluses to other accounts.
The governor notably is counting on moving $894 million in balances over two fiscal years to H2Ohio, his proposed fund to bank money designed to improve the water quality of algal-bloom-afflicted Lake Erie and other waterways over the next decade.
Intercepting the money for other accounts — instead of placing it in the general revenue fund, which pays for most state government operations — keeps it from counting against a 3.5-percent annual cap on state spending growth and allows other spending to occupy the space.
DeWine's two-year budget proposal came up just a few million dollars short of the spending limits. Barring upward-revised revenue numbers, his wish list already must be cut since lawmakers placed $35 million for the Department of Public Safety and $70 million for public transit in the general-revenue fund budget as part of approving the transportation budget and its gas-tax increase.
Office of Budget and Management Director Kim Murnieks said she is working with legislators to ease the budget back in bounds.
The unusual $35 million extra for public safety, including the State Highway Patrol, is designed to stabilize its funding while Director Tom Stickrath works to find efficiencies and cut costs. The $11 earmarked for the department from each motor vehicle registration fee has been eroded by inflation to the equivalent of $8 since its inception in 2004 and no longer provides enough money, Stickrath told lawmakers.
DeWine, a first-year Republican, also wants to transfer $319.6 million in surpluses to other dedicated accounts, including $20.8 million for tourism promotion, $56.3 million for the RecoveryOhio drug addiction treatment and prevention program and $24.5 million for Innovate Ohio, the effort led by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted to deploy taxpayer-friendly technology to improve state government.
He also wants lawmakers to OK the allocation of $75 million ($25 million each) to replenish the state's emergency purpose and disaster service funds and to improve state parks. DeWine's request also includes a $5 million transfer for the "Books from Birth" childhood literacy program involving First Lady Fran DeWine.
"We anticipate a surplus, and the governor has proposed in the budget ways to use the surplus to focus on the priorities and issues facing the state," said Dan Tierney, DeWine's press secretary. Setting aside surplus money now allows it "to be prudently saved for future needs," he said.
The governor’s budget sought to spend nearly every dollar up to the general revenue fund limit, coming in $3.3 million under the $23.6 billion cap in the fiscal year beginning July 1 and $1.2 million short of the $24.4 billion limit the following year.
The legislature's budget advisers believe that DeWine wants to spend too much money, arguing the administration’s economic and tax-growth numbers and projected budget surpluses are overly optimistic. The Legislative Service Commission suggests that lawmakers cut DeWine’s $2.8 billion two-year spending increase by $705 million, or 25 percent.
Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, the No. 2 House leader, said the chamber's members are "working on how the numbers work — that is something we're taking a very close look at."
The Republicans who control the Ohio General Assembly typically have not been shy in slicing and dicing parts of governor-submitted budgets to cover their own priorities.
"We are encouraged by many of the governor's proposals and recommendations," Butler said. "They are important areas we need to address ... we are going to have a conservative budget when we are all done."