COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — State senators get a crack at adjusting Ohio’s two-year budget after it passed the House last week with only 19 “nay” votes.
Both Senate and House Republicans and Democrats agree that education is a top priority, but the way that looks differs from chamber to chamber and across the aisle.
“Fair school funding — we want to make sure we maintain that,” Ohio Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) said. “That’s a bipartisan deal in heaven, so we want to make sure we hold on to that.”
Right now, the budget rolls in the Fair School Funding Plan, something lawmakers said will help ensure all public school education across the state is equitable.
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said allowing universal school choice is also a priority. While the House expanded eligibility, Huffman said he wants to see the implementation of something like the Backpack Bill in the budget.
“There’s going to be some version of that that comes back in the Senate budget,” Huffman said. “Exactly the form and function of that yet, I don’t know.”
Conversely, Senate Democrats want to see school choice eligibility decreased so the state can focus on public school funding. Huffman said he is looking to implement Senate Bill 1, which overhauls the state board of education, into the budget.
Right now, the budget provides a middle-class income tax cut that some representatives said will equate to nearly $1 billion dollars.
“It’s really not an $800 million tax cut, it’s more of a $200 million tax cut,” Huffman said. “It’s a good idea, I do think we need to expand it so it truly is an 800 million to billion dollar tax cut. It is a gross income tax cut but not a net income tax cut and I know net is better than gross.”
But Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said she worries about where the income tax cut conversation may lead.
“I don’t want to see an increase in the levels of a tax cut done in the Senate; there’s talk about that, raising the cut to higher income levels,” Antonio said. “When you provide this income tax cut to the higher income levels, it means there’s a cut in services. Usually, it means an increase in sales tax that disproportionately affects low-income folks.”
Some areas of mental health funding were cut by 50% from what Gov. Mike DeWine proposed in the House’s budget. Antonio said that is of concern.
“Especially psychiatric mental health for children,” she said.
Antonio said nothing is a non-starter right now and Senate Democrats are open to any conversation. More of their budget priorities include:
- Increasing access to quality and affordable healthcare
- Strengthening Ohio’s workforce
- Supporting business growth, especially small businesses
- Providing more resources and safety measures for local communities
- Increasing safe and affordable housing
- Protecting Ohio’s environment
A spokesperson for Senate Republicans said they will have a more concrete idea of their priorities within the next week.