Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ohio Senate Republicans Bolster Support for Public Education in Budget Bill

Columbus – Ohio Senate Republicans unveiled a biennial budget plan today that provides additional support for public education and local communities, while eliminating a projected $8 billion structural imbalance without raising taxes.

"This is an incredibly difficult budget that requires a great deal of shared sacrifice to fill an unprecedented shortfall," said Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus (R-New Richmond). "We're committed to putting the limited resources we have toward the areas that need it most, and that begins with our schools. We've come up with a plan that guarantees every district will receive at least their current level of basic state aid over the next two years, with the exception of federal stimulus funds."

Niehaus said Senators identified more funding for education by using revenue and Medicaid caseload estimates provided by the Legislative Service Commission, which among other budget revisions provided more than $115 million to bolster school funding levels over the biennium. Senate Republican leadership also worked to free up revenue for communities that rely on the Local Government Fund. The Senate budget adds $100 million to the fund over the biennium and increases baseline local government support from $500,000 in the House budget to $750,000, meaning communities that receive $750,000 or less from the fund will not see a reduction.

"Naturally, when we're trying to fill an $8 billion hole, we don't have the resources to sustain previous funding levels for schools and local governments, but we're doing everything we can to mitigate those reductions," said Senator Chris Widener (R-Springfield), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "We've also taken steps to help communities and families through responsible tax relief. Our budget will keep the final phase-in of a 21 percent income tax reduction approved in 2005 for every Ohio taxpayer. There's no better way to help the middle class than by letting them keep more of their hard-earned money in this tough economy."

The income tax reduction is estimated to put more than $800 million back into the wallets of Ohio families at a time when they need it most. Among other important tax reforms included in the bill, the Senate budget includes a Historic Preservation Tax Credit, designed to incentivize the renovation of historic downtown buildings and encourage community revitalization. The plan expands the Job Retention Tax Credit, an economic development tool that provides tax incentives for major employers that keep jobs in Ohio instead of relocating them to other states. Senate Republicans also included the elimination by 2013 of the job-killing "Death Tax," which drives entrepreneurs out of Ohio and destroys small businesses and family farms. Finally, the budget also provides historic levels of Property Tax relief, $1.7 billion annually over the biennium, for every Ohio homeowner.

"This is a balanced budget that reduces spending and eliminates the largest fiscal shortfall in the history of our state without raising taxes," said Senator Niehaus. "Ohioans have paid enough in this recession, and we can't expect to restore our economy by asking them to pay more. We've made some tough decisions to deal with a very challenging financial crisis, but I'm confident this plan will get us back on a path to job creation and prosperity. I look forward to continuing the debate as we move closer to our June 30th deadline."

Substitute House Bill 153 will be introduced in the Senate Finance Committee today. After hearing additional testimony on the bill, the committee plans to send the bill to the Senate floor for a vote later next week.

Other Highlights of Substitute House Bill 153

Putting Students & Quality Education First:

* Excellent Schools Incentive - provides a $17 per pupil supplemental payment for schools rated excellent or excellent with distinction
* Special Education - provides scholarship funding for children with special needs to get services outside of their school district
* Charter School Reform - reinstates quality and operational controls in existing law and adopts new accountability measures
* Parochial Schools - restores baseline funding for chartered non-public schools to ensure parity in support levels with public schools

Preparing Ohio's Future Workforce:

* Live & Learn Program - allows out-of-state college students to pay in-state tuition rates in exchange for living in Ohio for at least five years after graduation
* National Guard Scholarships - develops a partnership with Ohio's higher education institutions to ensure that National Guard Scholarships are fully funded

Investing in the Health & Welfare of Our Kids:

* Children's Hospitals - reinstates full funding to $6 million a year, allowing the hospitals to draw down additional federal support
* Help Me Grow - restores funding for a program that provides expectant parents with health and developmental services
* Kinship Care - restores funding for a program for relatives who become primary caregivers when parents are unable or unavailable to care for a child
* Accountable Care Organizations - creates a process for developing coordinated pediatric services for children with disabilities
* Adoption Assistance - provides $7 million to counties for adoption services
* Child Support Enforcement - provides $7 million to counties, allowing a $14 million draw-down of additional federal support
* Immunizations - added $2.5 million in FY 2013 for the purchase of child health immunizations

Providing Support for Quality Health Care:

* Non-Contracting Policy - reinstates existing law requiring hospitals to provide Medicaid services by contract through a managed care plan
* PASSPORT - added $15 million to the program that supports at-home care for Ohioans who prefer to live independently in their own homes
* Pill Mills - fully funded the recently-passed legislation designed to crack down on prescription drug abuse

Improving Government Services:

* Consumers' Counsel - provides additional funding and reinstates the listing of the counsel's phone number on utility bills; also removes a gag order on the consumers counsel within certain guidelines
* Turnpike Privatization - requires approval by the General Assembly before operation of the Ohio Turnpike can be leased or privatized
* Workers' Compensation Council - abolishes an agency created to review legislation involving or affecting the workers’ compensation system
* Commercial Activity Tax Exemption - provides an exemption for uranium processing facilities (intended to encourage the federal government to provide a loan guarantee for the construction of a uranium-enrichment plant in Piketon)
* Lottery Management - allows the Lottery Commission to improve operational performance by contracting with a private vendor for day-to-day management