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Budget Battles Expected From State Capitol In 2015

2015 has all the elements of an exciting year in the state capitol. In the final installment of the Statehouse News Bureau’s look back on 2014, a preview of what’s ahead for the incoming state legislature and the newly elected governor. 2015 is a budget year, and that potentially means battles over priorities. And Gov. John Kasich knows it. “As executive, I’ve got to tell you, I don’t care if I have to break some china. But that’s not the best way to do things. The best way to do things is to get cooperation out of the people you work with," says Kasich. Some might wonder why Kasich would even worry about conflict with the legislature – his fellow Republicans dominate Democrats in the Senate 2-1, and Republicans will have a record 65 member majority in the House. But while Republican state lawmakers have agreed with Kasich on income and small business tax cuts, they’ve struggled over how to fund them, including his proposed hikes in taxes on cigarettes and oil and natural gas drillers. He’s promised to bring those up again. “We gotta say that some taxes, you know…I’ll give you a perfect example. Why should taxes on tobacco not be higher to pay for a reduction in the income tax?” “I have not yet begun to fight, but we can’t let these companies take our valuable stuff out of the state and not pay for it," says Kasich. Senate President Keith Faber shared a stage with Kasich at a Chamber of Commerce event before the holidays, and suggested to the business leaders that the tax hike proposals will be back, and might get further this time. “Give us your ideas. Because we’re going to go. It’s better if we go with your help and advice and guidance than if we go down that route and not know where the unintended consequences are," says Faber. And it’s unclear is what might happen with Kasich’s other major initiative – Medicaid expansion. There was a wide and deep split among Republicans on that issue – so much so that it wasn’t brought to the legislature for a vote. After some last-minute moves by leadership to remove opponents of Medicaid expansion, Kasich took it to the six lawmakers on the Controlling Board. One of those Controlling Board was Rep. Cliff Rosenberger of southwest Ohio – who is now the House Speaker elect. After he was chosen in November, Rosenberger did not directly address Medicaid expansion, but stayed vague. “Our caucus is going to be strong. We’re going to continue doing the right things to put Ohio in the right direction make sure the quality of life is strong and make sure our number one task as we go forward is to make sure we continue to keep our citizens employed moving forward. And we’re gonna do it together," says Rosenberger. This is one area where Democrats feel they can have an impact. That same afternoon, Fred Strahorn of Dayton was elected House Minority Leader, and reminded reporters that Democrats have been supportive of Kasich on Medicaid expansion. “I don’t want to speak for Speaker-elect Rosenberger. It’s up to him.  It’s an opportunity and it’s something that we stand, I believe, ready to make happen," says Strahorn. Senate President Faber had a little more detail in remarks he made at a conference two days after the election. “Medicaid expansion, my guess, probably will not be something that remains part of the budget. It probably will be something that we’ll have debate and discussion outside the budget, but it may not remain part of the budget, although I’m open to that discussion," says Faber. But Kasich was firm in his resolve at an event with public health and safety net advocates working on infant mortality on December 4. “I’m serious, folks. If that thing is at risk, we’re going to be marching. We’re going to march, and you’re going to show up, because we gotta get this done," says Kasich. Kasich has also said he wants changes in regulations on charter schools. Faber has said he wants to include public schools in the debate over quality education. Rosenberger has been virtually silent since his election. What’s also fuzzy for the future is Kasich’s plans to run for president, and if they exist, what impact they might have on his budget and on legislation that may come out of an increasingly conservative legislature.