Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Ohio budget bill loaded with controversy

From editorial

It looks like the bill that will lay out Ohio’s spending and tax priorities for the next two years will go to the governor laden with stuff that has nothing to do with the budget.

For some reason, the Republicans in the GOP-controlled General Assembly think the state budget is the appropriate vehicle to inflame the culture wars anew with a series of restrictions on abortion. The most egregious is a last-minute amendment to require doctors to perform ultrasounds to detect a fetal heartbeat. This is a back-door effort to avoid public debate on a highly controversial issue. It is a watered-down version of last year’s heartbeat bill, which GOP leaders took off the table. Now it’s back, tacked onto the budget bill. It deserves to be deleted or vetoed. Politicians don’t need to meddle in the doctor-patient relationship and legislate medicine.

Republicans also kept in the budget bill a provision that would ban abortion clinics from entering into transfer agreements with public hospitals. This is an unnecessary threat to the health of women. By potentially banning a transfer to a public hospital, precisely at the time when women may need advanced medical care, Republicans are putting women at risk. This should be taken out.

The bill also contains a ban on expanding Medicaid. Gov. John Kasich, himself a conservative Republican, has proposed expanding the Medicaid program using federal dollars. It would mean health insurance, and better health care, for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans who don’t have it. The governor should veto this ban, which unnecessarily ties the legislature’s hands.

A new exemption to Ohio’s open meetings law would let city councils, county boards and other public bodies keep the public out of meetings where economic development agreements are discussed. Local and state governments don’t need any more secrecy, especially when it comes to giving tax dollars and tax breaks to businesses. This, too, should go.

A little-known provision would change the make-up of the boards of vocational schools such as Great Oaks. The boards are now made up of elected school board members. The change would result in business executives being appointed to the vocational boards. It would be a big change in governance, and Great Oaks, the largest career-technical district in the state, and other vocational schools oppose it.

The budget itself appears less controversial, but that’s because the taxing and spending issues have been overshadowed by the irrelevant amendments.

This budget would raise taxes on consumers, through an expansion of the state sales tax, and lower them significantly on businesses. It would raise property taxes in the future by doing away with the long-time homestead exemption. Income taxes would be cut by 10 percent, a cut that is a bigger benefit to high wage earners.

Legislators are passing up an opportunity to raise taxes on the energy companies that are rapidly expanding their drilling operations in eastern Ohio. Ohio’s tax on oil and gas extraction, the severance tax, is one of the lowest in the nation.

Kasich proposed raising it, but the Big Oil companies appear to be winning this round.

The budget process also spotlighted the one-party system that Ohio has turned into. With solid majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans were able to exclude Democrats from any serious budget negotiations.

Legislators should keep the budget bill for budget matters so Ohioans can have the benefit of full, open debate on how their dollars are spent.
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