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Ohio Leaders Locked In Budget Negotiations As Deadline Approaches

The Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus on March 26, 2020.
Ryan Hitchcock
The Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus on March 26, 2020.

There are several points of contention to iron out as the Ohio House, Ohio Senate, and the governor's office work on a final budget proposal to spend more than $74 billion over the next two fiscal years.

The conference committee for the state's budget bill, HB110, met Tuesday to quickly convene and then recess in order to go back into budget negotiations, which take place outside of the public eye and are not broadcast on the Ohio Channel.

Rep. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) said the House and Senate continued "positive negotiations and are making progress on the operating budget."

Gov. Mike DeWine added he's happy with the way deliberations are going so far while also noting some of the issues that stand out to him as lawmakers move towards a final plan.

DeWine said he has concerns with the Senate's proposed change to the Step Up To Quality program.

Facilities are currently required to take part in the Step Up To Quality program in order to serve children using federal public assistance for child care. The Senate's version of the budget removes that requirement. Supporters of the program said it creates accountability and bolsters accessibility to early childhood education for low-income families.

But Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) made this change a priority in the budget, said the program creates too many administrative hurdles and would start to cost the state millions of dollars to maintain. That's because child care facilities earn "stars" for their participation in Step Up To Quality, when they advance from one star to two stars they get more funding.

DeWine said assuring families have access to quality child care is "very, very important."

Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus), the top House Democrat on the budget conference committee, criticized the Senate's budget plan saying it took the House plan, which she already opposed, and "threw mud on it."

"We still have a couple of days to get this right but I was unhappy and continue to be unhappy with the Senate's version," Crawley said.

John Fortney, director of communications for the Senate Republican Caucus, issued a statement which said, "productive negotiations continue as we move forward toward the Constitutional deadline."

The budget must be signed by the end of June. In 2019, the General Assembly did not reach an agreement by the deadline and passed a temporary budget measure that lasted 17 days.

DeWine said another point of contention is over broadband expansion.

The governor's plan included $250 million in grants for broadband and the House cut that to $190 million. The Senate zeroed that appropriation out. But DeWine now said he optimistic there will be "adequate" money for broadband in the final plan.

Along with cutting funding for expansion, the Senate added an amendment to ban municipalities from offering broadband services through private-public partnerships in places already served by private companies. 

DeWine said that goes against a broadband expansion plan that can move Ohio "forward."  

"We've made it very, very clear that some of the proposed changes simply would be devastating to expanding broadband in this state," DeWine said. 

The contrasting school funding plans from the House and Senate continue to be a main focus of debate, with the House touting its plan as a more long-term solution, and the Senate saying it's plan is more predictable. 

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

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.