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Ohio Legislature Misses Budget Deadline, Passes Temporary Funding Measure

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, left, shakes hands with Ohio House speaker Larry Householder after delivering the Ohio State of the State address at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
Paul Vernon
Associated Press
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, left, shakes hands with Ohio House speaker Larry Householder after delivering the Ohio State of the State address at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

Ohio lawmakers failed to reach a state budget agreement by the midnight deadline, missing the mark for a spending deal for the new two-year cycle. Because the House and Senate couldn’t reach a compromise, both chambers passed a temporary budget extension to keep the government running. 

Gov. Mike DeWine signed the stopgap measure Sunday night but made note of his disapproval.

“While I am disappointed that the budget process has extended beyond July 1st, I want assure all Ohioans that state services will not be interrupted in any way,” DeWine said in a statement. “The House and the Senate passed similar budget proposals, and they both share the principles outlined in my executive budget proposal. I urge the legislative conference committee to continue negotiations and pass a full budget promptly."

It's the first time in a decade that Ohio lawmakers missed the deadline to pass a state budget.

Budget Bonanza

The Ohio Statehouse was filled with activity all weekend long as lawmakers held several meetings and even huddled in the hallways to gather information while budget negotiations continued. But as afternoon turned to evening during a rare Saturday session for the Senate, hopes of passing a two-year operating budget started to fade in exchange for a temporary fix. 

Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said the House and Senate came to the table with hundreds of measures on which they needed to reach an agreement, and although he says they came close, they just ran out of time.

“When it became clear today that it was just logistically not gonna be possible to finish it by the end of the day tomorrow we decided to err on the side of caution and pass the interim budget instead,” Obhof says.

But state Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, aimed the blame at a more specific problem.

“We’re here today because there was a cloud hanging over the whole process,” Dolan says.

Dolan was part of the conference committee where members of both chambers must pass a budget deal. He says the House never agreed on which budget version to use as the jumping off point, a decision he says must be made in order for legislators to see specific amendment language.

“But until about 9:30 tonight, we, the Senate, were not able to access the amendments of the House members,” Dolan claimed. “At 9:30 tonight there is no way this body can say to the state of Ohio: ‘We are comfortable with the priorities of our state and the path you turn on.’”

As Dolan made those claims on the Senate floor, House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) fired back on Twitter saying he was surprised by the comments, calling it a “bizarre contrived excuse for continual procrastination.”

The next day, when the House took up the budget stopgap, Householder was asked about picking a document for the conference committee to work from.

“That absolutely makes no difference whatsoever and it was the most bizarre comment I’ve ever heard in my life. Makes no difference whatsoever,” Householder said.

The temporary budget, SB171, will fund the government at the same levels as FY19 and gives the House and Senate 17 days to come up with a complete plan for FY20-21. 

A Decade's Difference

When lawmakers last missed a budget deadline, Ohio was in a much more precarious position.

In July 2019, Democrats controlled both the governor's seat and the House. But with Republicans in charge in the Senate, then-Gov. Ted Strickland was locked in a stalemate with lawmakers for two weeks.

"Each day that passes is putting us into a deeper financial hole," Strickland said.

His first budget, two years before, had passed almost unanimously. But the Great Recession had blown a hole in Ohio's budget, and unemployment was at a record high 11.2%. The solution was slot machines, $1 billion taken from the state's Rainy Day Fund, major budget cuts, layoffs, and a delay in the final year of a tax cut.

So the atmosphere was bitterly partisan as both parties prepared for the 2010 elections.

"It was much more contentious during that Republican Senate-Democratic House session, and that led into Strickland losing to John Kasich and led to the Democrats... losing their majority in the House," says Columbus Dispatch government reporter Marc Kovac, who covered the Statehouse for Dix Newspapers at the time.

Today, though the 2020 election is around the corner, the governor isn't up for re-election and the Senate president isn't up for re-election yet. The House Speaker, however, will be on the ballot.

What’s At Stake

This year, chambers passed their own versions of the budget bill with wide bipartisan support. The House approved its plan in early May, and the Senate had unanimous support after making its changes.

The House budget bill included a 6.6% income tax cut across the board, cut the bottom two tax brackets, lowered the small business income tax deduction to the first $100,000 earned, and put more money into wraparound services for schools.

In the Senate’s budget bill, income taxes were cut by 8%, the small business income tax deduction was restored to the first $250,000 earned, and the extra money dedicated to wraparound services in the House plan was funneled to school districts with growing enrollment.

Householder says among the main points of contention are the tax plans, health care reforms, and education spending.

As for making changes to Medicaid, Householder says it’s important to act now.

“We’re going through a pretty good economic time in the state of Ohio right now, our Medicaid rolls are down, now’s the time to try and initiate some good cost savings measures which are also very beneficial to the Medicaid population,” Householder said.

State Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron), House Minority Caucus leader, says failing to meet the budget deadline was the result of petty politics among Republicans, who control both the House and Senate as well as the governor’s mansion. She adds that while most Ohioans won’t be impacted by a temporary fix, it only delays the increased funding they wanted for areas such as Lake Erie, children services, and school programs.

“The budget that was passed last General Assembly was not something that we supported, and if that is the budget, we will continue to have we know where that’s gonna get us," Sykes says.  

Despite missing the deadline, both Obhof and Householder expressed some optimism that they were close to a done deal.

“I think that in the relatively near future we will have a final version of the budget that everyone can be proud of,” Obhof says.

“At this stage you know we’ve got compromises in place and many of these things have already been worked out, they just need to be agreed upon and moved on,” Householder added.

The chambers also failed to reach an agreement on the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation budget, marking the third time this year that they failed to meet a budget deadline – the first being the two-days-late transportation budget, which included a gas tax increase. This weekend, the House and Senate approved a 30-day budget extension for the BWC as well, in the form of SB172.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.