COLUMBUS — After jettisoning a controversial Medicaid change, the Ohio House gave broad, bipartisan support to a new two-year, $68.9 billion operating budget Thursday that includes a tax cut for most Ohioans — except for some upper-income business owners.
Prior to the 85-9 vote, an expression of bipartisanship not usually seen with budget bills, the House removed a Medicaid provision known as Healthy Ohio that would have charged new fees to more than 1 million Medicaid recipients and stripped several health-coverage benefits from those who miss payments.
The plan would have impacted 38 percent of poor and disabled Ohioans who rely on the tax-funded health insurance. It was similar to an earlier proposal by Ohio officials that was rejected by federal regulators in 2016.
Advocates for the poor argued it would punish low-income Ohioans and restrict optional services — including prescription drugs, mental health services and dental care — for those who don’t pay monthly premiums.
“Creating a two-tier system of care within the Medicaid program will not make Ohio healthier. It will increase administrative costs while leaving poor people without needed health care services,” said Susan Jagers, director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center.
House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said he expects the proposal will be worked out as separate legislation.
"We know from other models in other states that have attempted to do this type of approach that folks have lost essential coverage," said Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington.
The overall budget is unlike those in past years under Republican rule. Tax cuts are focused on lower-income Ohioans with significant increases in programs aimed at helping the poor and those impacted by Ohio’s addiction crisis.
“Lower incomes and kids in our communities are the people who are hurting the most now,” Householder said. “We’re starting to turn the corner on the tremendous addiction we’ve had in our communities … and now it’s time to focus on these communities and these families that have been horrendously impacted by this opioid crisis in the state.”
The budget bill was sent to the Senate on the same day that the state Office of Budget and Management released a sparkling tax revenue report, showing total April revenue 20 percent over estimates.
Still, some conservatives were not happy with the host of new spending. The budget includes some positive policies, but "significantly increases government spending to levels that are unsustainable for Ohio taxpayers," said Rea Hederman Jr. of the conservative Buckeye Institute.
Among key provisions, the plan:
• Spends another $675 million on K-12 education, directing much of the money to districts with higher poverty concentrations to help them pay for services such as mental health counseling and after-school programs. Work will continue on an alternative funding formula, and the budget creates a host of funding study committees to focus on areas including special and gifted education, charter schools, and low-income students.
“When you don’t know, it’s imperative that you dig deeper to get the answers,” said Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson.
• Eliminates the state school takeover process for chronically struggling school districts, replacing it with requirements for local planning and adjustments.
• Alters the state report card, changing how districts receive an overall grade. This would allow a few dozen districts to get higher grades.
• Establishes a new $20 million school-bus purchasing program.
• Sets aside $85 million over two years for Gov. Mike DeWine’s new H2Ohio program, designed to do more to protect Lake Erie and other state waterways. Householder said the plan is to use bonding to create a long-term funding source.
• Raises the purchase age for tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. But the American Cancer Society said the provision is weak, lacking enforcement and penalties.
• Doubles DeWine’s requested funding for foster care and child protective services, while adding $2 million for domestic violence counseling and $8.9 million for rape crisis centers.
• Eliminates the state income tax on up to $22,250 of income and reduces remaining tax brackets by 6.6 percent. Also scales back the tax exemptions currently enjoyed by pass-through business owners, rolling the deduction back from $250,000 to $100,000. Overall, tax changes net a $108 million tax reduction per year.
• Eliminates some special tax breaks, including those for motion picture studios, fractionally owned private jets, gold coins and racing teams. Also adds tax breaks for cleaning services and supplies for manufacturing equipment and food processing equipment, and requires sales tax collection for online purchases.
• Freezes tuition and general fees at state colleges and universities for four years for all incoming freshmen.
• Increases needs-based college assistance, the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, by 21 percent per year over two years.
• Attempts to provide more medical care cost transparency for patients and limit when patients are charged out-of-network fees.