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Budget Clears House, Heads To Governor For Signature

After several long months and a very long day, the state budget is nearly finished. The House and Senate started their Thursday sessions at nearly the same time, but the House quickly recessed. The Senate carried on – starting with Senate Finance Committee chair Scott Oelslager of Canton, who had been on the conference committee that worked out the differences between the two budgets. “We worked together to discuss one of the most progress-centered budgets the state of Ohio has ever seen," Oelslager said. The compromise budget has an income tax cut of 8.5% in the first year, nine percent in the second and ten percent in the third with a 50 percent tax cut for small businesses, along with a hike in the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent and an expansion to digital downloads and magazine subscriptions. It also includes means testing for the homestead tax exemption for disabled and elderly homeowners and the elimination of the 12.5 percent rollback on new property tax levies. But Democrat Capri Cafaro of the Youngstown area described the stripping of Medicaid expansion from the budget as "fiscally irresponsible, heartless, cowardly and shortsighted." Democrat Nina Turner of Cleveland railed against the abortion provisions in the budget – including one to require a doctor inform a woman seeking an abortion of the presence of a fetal heartbeat added just a few days ago. “And I would kindly ask that the members of this body grow a pair, ovaries or otherwise. I urge a no vote on this bill," Turner said. Abortion rights activists watching the proceedings broke into applause. Republican Bill Seitz of Cincinnati said the budget didn’t go all the Republicans’ way, but he’s pleased with the final result. “It is a budget that gives tax cuts to 98.5 percent of the taxpayers in Ohio.â€? The budget passed the Senate with all Democrats and Republican Kris Jordan of Powell voting against it, and all Republicans voting for it except Peggy Lehner of Kettering, who was absent. The House debate was going on as the Senate wrapped up. Democrat Matt Lundy of Elyria riffed on comedian Jeff Foxworthy in his criticism of the budget. “When you support a bill that provides tax breaks to the wealthy while raising property taxes on senior citizens, well, you just might be a servant to special interests,â€? Lundy said “And when you support a bill that declares war on women and attacks women’s healthcare, well, you just might be a servant to special interests," Lundy added. Republican Lynn Wachtmann of Napoleon in northwest Ohio said he didn’t have a detailed analysis to explain why he likes the budget. “A lot of people say if we don’t cut taxes this happens, if we do cut taxes that happens. I have a more simplistic view of cutting taxes. That is, when the government has less of my money or my constituents money, we have more freedom. Now I kind of like freedom.â€? To try to close the debate, House Finance Committee chair Ron Amstutz of Wooster hearkened back to a Bible verse about “the least of theseâ€? that was used by Democrat Mike Foley to blast what he said was a tax shift that creates a burden on the poorest and the working middle class. “Who would the least of these be but an unborn child? Why is it that they have to be the victims?â€? Foley then took issue with Amstutz’s comments that Democrats didn’t have any alternate ideas, saying Democrats had offered around 300 amendments. “To say that the Democrats did not have an alternative that was proposed into the body politic here is just disingenuous, and I would object..." Wachtmann stood up to say Foley was out of order, and Speaker Bill Batchelder immediately called for a vote. Seven Republicans joined all Democrats present in voting against the budget. All that’s left is a signature from the governor, which is expected to happen on Sunday.