Gongwer: State Budget Process Enters Final Stretch

This article is an excerpt from Gongwer News Service.

The Senate on Wednesday approved its version of the state operating budget, setting up a showdown with the House that will center largely on the future of how Ohio funds its schools. The Ohio House voted on Thursday to not concur with the Senate’s version of the budget, meaning that the legislation (HB 110) will now head to a conference committee to reconcile the differences.

While the chambers differ on many parts of the measure, which totals $74.5 billion across the biennium in General Revenue Fund appropriations and $160.9 billion in all funds, the biggest conflict is on school funding.

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The House included what it called the Fair School Funding Plan, a complete overhaul of K-12 financing that is the product of years of stakeholder feedback, revisions and adjustments. Senate leaders replaced it with their own new formula a week ago, saying the proposal is more sustainable and reliable. The upper chamber's plan has drawn criticism from stakeholders who favor the lower chamber's version.

Also set up for debate during the conference committee is the fate of $190 million proposed by the House for increasing broadband access. The Senate removed that money, with Sen. Huffman saying the state needs to have a plan for how to spend it.

Sen. Dolan told reporters Tuesday that they are working on a plan to resolve that issue before the budget is finished. "The hope is that broadband will be done, and we will have a direction for the state by the end of this process."

The Senate budget also includes a 5% across-the-board cut to the personal income tax, building on a 2% cut included by the House, which has attracted criticism from Democrats and advocacy groups who say the state could use that money to better support working Ohioans in the wake of the pandemic.

When the budget gets to conference committee in the next week or so, conferees will be presented with a new set of revenue estimates for the coming biennium. If recent tax receipts are a strong indicator, they could have more revenue to work with than they previously thought. Tax revenues have remained strong during the pandemic, with the sales tax far exceeding expectations.

Read more on Gongwer News Service.

Alexandra Denney