Senate Republicans pass $75 billion state budget

·4 min read

Jun. 10—COLUMBUS — Ohio Senate Republicans argued that the proposed $75 billion, two-year budget that cleared the chamber Wednesday represents an investment in the state and its citizens.

Democrats countered that it marked a missed opportunity to use current budget largess to make long overdue investments, particularly when it comes to primary and secondary schools.

The bill passed 25-8 along party lines. The dispute is expected to head to a GOP-majority conference committee once the House of Representatives rejects the Senate changes Thursday.

"The majority is again prioritizing income tax cuts for the wealthiest Ohioans, depriving our state of resources that could and should be used to improve our unconstitutional school funding system, expanding high-quality child care and pre-school opportunities, better higher education, making our health care and criminal justice systems fairer, our environment cleaner, and our local governments stronger," said state Sen. Vernon Sykes (D., Akron), ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

The spending plan would cut income taxes across the board by 5 percent, ignore much of the school-funding work the House has done over the last three years, enact more restrictions on surgical abortion clinics, and further expand access to publicly funded child care.

It would take the teeth out of a five-star scoring system that child-care providers must navigate as a condition of getting taxpayer funds for lower-income children, expand the dollar value of vouchers for private and religious school students, and allow those who've worked from home during the pandemic to seek refunds of municipal income taxes paid to their primary workplace cities.

"They talk about the tax cuts being disproportionate," state Sen. Rob McColley (R., Napoleon) said. "Well, if you look at it, it's equal across the board — 5 percent. So if you're making a lower amount, your 5 percent is going to be lower than someone making a higher amount. Basic math.

"So we have people saying we shouldn't have an equal tax cut across the board for all Ohioans," he said. "It kind of makes you wonder why at the same time we also have people saying that the taxes that you paid to municipalities that you arguably didn't owe because you never worked there or lived there in the past year or two, that those municipalities should be able to keep your hard-earned money."

Taking aim at criticism of the Senate's school funding plan, state Sen. Matt Dolan (R., Chagrin Falls), Finance chairman, said, "Remember what the goal was: Providing a predictable and rational formula and making sure that our public schools no longer have the burden of paying for students who are not in their system. ... They don't have to pay for a child that's not going to be there, and they're not receiving funds for a child who is not there."

He was referring to a provision that will have the state directly fund charter schools and voucher students rather than ask home districts to do so while also removing minimum funding guarantees for districts based on students who may no longer be there.

A final budget must reach Gov. Mike DeWine's desk by June 30.

The fight in conference committee will provide the first real test of the clout and philosophies of two Lima Republicans.

House Speaker Bob Cupp was a sponsor of the Fair School Funding Plan that twice passed the chamber with strong bipartisan support. Senate President Matt Huffman, meanwhile, is a major proponent of school vouchers and has characterized the House plan as fiscally unsustainable.

Taylor Pennington, a Lima parent and organizer with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, said parents can no longer wait for legislative action responding to multiple Ohio Supreme Court rulings that declared Ohio's method of funding schools unconstitutional some 20 years ago.

She was among teachers, parents, union members, clergy, and others pushing at the last minute at the Statehouse for survival of the House plan.

"We are desperate for change in Lima," she said. "... How do we prepare our children for the future when our education system is stuck in the past? Everywhere we look we see change, innovation, and progression, everywhere except for our school funding.

"For over 20 years, and far beyond that, children in poor communities have been failed by the school funding system," Ms. Pennington said.

The House plan would roll out over six years an ambitious new formula that balances state aid with local districts' ability to afford the cost of a quality public education, a calculation expected to ultimately cost the state $1.8 billion more.

The Senate keeps its focus on the next two years, using a narrowly tailored formula focused primarily on teacher compensation to determine the cost of educating a student.

The difference: An estimated cost of $6,110 to educate a student under the Senate plan and $7,020 under the House.

By comparison, the Senate plan would raise the dollar value of an EdChoice scholarship, or voucher, for a student to seek an education outside of a public school from $4,650 to $5,500 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and from $6,000 to $7,500 for high schoolers.

First Published June 9, 2021, 6:06pm