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Removed Ohio House budget provisions gone but not forgotten

The state budget bill went through one last, major overhaul of changes before passing out of a Ohio House committee this week. The amendments took out several contentious provisions, but that doesn’t mean some of the controversial issues are going away.

Some changes made by House Republicans in their revised two-year, $71.5 billion budget bill were born out of compromise, such as adding money so the secretary of state can mail out absentee ballot applications.

But there are other, more disputed provisions that are gone but not forgotten.

Take the measure that would have prohibited the state auditor from conducting public records audits. This was in response to a program Ohio Auditor Dave Yost launched earlier this year. He said he wanted people to use his office when they believed their public records requests weren’t taken seriously.

Yost vigorously pushed back on the language which was added into the budget by fellow Republicans in the House. And while it’s no longer in the budget bill, Republican Representative and House Finance Committee chair Ryan Smith of Gallipolis says they will revisit the issue.

“Quite frankly, our concern, it’s not with the auditor Yost - it’s looking out 20 years from now in a partisan position how that might turn out how dangerous that could possibly be,” Smith said. “It’s a matter of trying to think through long-term how this could impact things and that’s why we decided to pull it and have a bigger discussion on how best to add safeguards so that doesn’t happen.”

Auditor Yost was unavailable for comment but did provide a written statement saying that deliberation and consideration of ideas is part of the long legislative process. Yost also commended House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger for navigating the chamber through difficult policy choices.

One of those choices was to also pull out language that impacts collective bargaining and pension options. Union groups were upset when the House previously added language to reclassify certain higher education faculty members as management.

Melissa Cropper is president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT), one of the largest teachers’ unions in the state. She said this reclassification would take away the ability to renegotiate a contract. She said another measure would have prevented charter school teachers from receiving pensions from state education retirement systems.

Again that language was removed, but Cropper says the OFT and other union groups are keeping a watchful eye on the possibility of those measures popping up in other bills, especially given how she believes they ended up in the revised bill in the first place.

“These provisions hadn’t been part of any kind of conversation that had been going on around the budget bill they just all of the sudden overnight turned up in a sub bill,” Cropper said. “That just again is a warning to us workers that there are still people who are looking for ways to take away collective bargaining rights and they might do it in a very sly way - you know - sneak in something overnight and we have to constantly be watching. We can’t take our collective bargaining rights for granted.” .

House leaders made no mention of revisiting those issues any time soon. Cropper says she remains hopeful the Senate stays away from similar language when they make their changes.

Other provisions taken out of the budget are a little less controversial—such as removing the proposed Tax Expenditure Review Committee. This is something the House wants to take a close look at but through a stand-alone bill.

“We have a bill—Representative (Terry) Boose has a bill that does similar things and I think we want to look at it from that perspective and think long and hard about how we want to do that plus we have a little bit of overlap with the Ohio 2020 tax study commission,” said Smith.

Smith and the House Republican caucus want to phase-out the Tangible Personal Property tax or the TPP—a school funding reimbursement program left over from the 2005 tax cuts under Gov. Bob Taft. However they ended up putting about $100 million back into that pot to help schools breakeven after taking a hit in the school funding formula.

“I think it was probably the best thing we could do to continue the TPP phase out but mute the effect of it—the negative effect,” Smith said. “Because we put a lot of money into the school formula so that helped a lot but it didn’t help enough to make sure everyone was held harmless.”  

The House plans to hold a full chamber vote on the budget bill later this week. Meanwhile, the Senate has started holding hearings to get an overall budget forecast.