Ohio House passes appropriations bill, to protest of some GOP lawmakers
Ohio House lawmakers from both parties voted 75-19 to pass a nearly $2 billion package of appropriations for a slew of regional and local projects Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the proposal was first made publicly available.
HB 2 allocates $350 million to local community investment projects through excess money from the state budget.
Across the state, local communities would get hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of dollars for everything from welcome centers and community parks to bridge rehabs and pickleball courts. It includes a $5 million budget line for renovations to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Aside from the one-time money, HB 2 also outlines another $1.65 billion in bonded—or borrowed—funds toward Ohio’s colleges and its jails, among other institutions. Ohio State University alone is earmarked for $76.5 million, largely for demolitions and renovations.
The bill creates a jail facility funding program.
After the session adjourned, Stephens said that he feels good about the bill being sent to the Ohio Senate. “It's really going to set Ohio apart, and it's going to be all parts of Ohio, from every region, so I'm really excited,” he said.
House Democrats, like Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Westlake), worked on the bill and backed it, too.
“I’m really proud of the work we did to put people over politics and to put money back into the hands of our constituents,” Sweeney said.
HB 2 got no public testimony prior to passage, having cleared committee unanimously earlier in the day. But Stephens said lawmakers involved in putting the proposal together have been having conversations with local governments for months.
“Maybe not necessarily here, in a hearing room at the Statehouse,” he said.
HB 2 now faces the Ohio Senate, which has its own $350 million to earmark.
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) already signaled he isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with the house’s version—or its fast-tracked timeline. In a letter to senators, Huffman said it deserves further debate.
Some Ohio House members say politics at play
But disagreement over the bill wasn't reserved for the Ohio Senate.
All of the 19 ‘no’ votes on House Bill 2 came from Republicans, most of whom opposed Stephens in his bid for house speaker. When the bill was brought forward Wednesday, at least six of them stood frequently to be recognized—some calling out to Stephens, to no avail.
Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) said they were being purposely ignored.
“If you are a member who voted for the speaker last January, you did very well in this bill. Millions and millions, tens of millions of dollars,” Stewart said after the vote. “If you are a member who did not vote for the speaker, you are getting the table scraps.”
Stewart backed Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) in the speaker's race. Merrin said Wednesday he, alongside some of his colleagues, were also shut down when they tried to force a vote on Senate Bill 83, GOP-backed legislation to address concerns conservatives have about higher education. It's been on the house side for months.
“The only people who oppose it are the Democrats and effectively Jason Stephens, so what we have right now it absolute tyranny where Republican members are not recognized on the floor,” Merrin said.
But from the dais, Stephens said he saw it differently, and was nonchalant when asked about whether he was trying to stymie those in his caucus from a vote on SB 83.
“They were just being ornery because this is the last session before the primary,” Stephens said. “It has been blatantly obvious that some members of our caucus are working actively against Republican members of this caucus and that was just showmanship, and it was just silly."
Merrin was among the 75 ‘yes’ votes on HB 2.