After several weeks of debate and discussion, the Ohio House of Representatives passed a fiscally balanced budget bill that reduces government spending, avoids tax increases, and invests in Ohio’s immediate and long-term future.

House Bill 153—the product of 57 committee hearings, 811 witnesses and nearly 200 hours of testimony—maintains a commitment to Ohio’s job climate and fiscal sustainability. It successfully makes significant reductions in the size of state government and closes the $8 billion budget gap.

“This is a smart, financially sustainable budget that not only addresses our current economic crisis, but also works to avoid the possibility of future crises down the road,” said State Representative Ron Amstutz, chairman of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee. “Through transformational reforms at the state and local levels, agency spending reductions and revenue revisions, we were able to fill the budget gap without raising taxes. We firmly opposed raising taxes on Ohioans when there were so many other structural inefficiencies and areas of government that needed to be reexamined.”

Through a study that the House Republicans requested from the Ohio Department of Taxation, the caucus learned that income taxes would have to be increased between 46 and 56 percent on Ohio’s families in order to fill the budget gap. “I and the majority of my House colleagues simply were not willing to put this burden onto the backs of the taxpayers,” said Amstutz. “We held the tax rate down while putting funding where it is needed most.”

Among the priorities of the budget is a focus on Ohio’s economy and job market. In addition to including a measure to incentivize educated individuals to relocate to Ohio to pursue a college degree, House Bill 153 also solidifies the proposal to transfer the wholesale liquor enterprise to JobsOhio by clearly delineating the division of responsibility between the Department of Commerce licensing and merchandising functions.

Importantly, it also eliminates the death tax—which imposes an onerous double tax on Ohio’s middle class—effective January 1, 2013 to support small business owners, homeowners, farmers, retirees and entrepreneurs. According to Americans for Tax Reform, the elimination of the death tax will provide a much-needed tax cut for Ohio’s taxpayers and middle-class families, while also helping to curtail outward migration.
“Ohio’s economic recovery continues to be a primary focus of the House Republican Caucus, and I believe that it shows in this budget proposal,” Amstutz said. “We are also investing in the things that matter to the people of this state, such as education, elderly care and more options for local governments.”

To bolster Ohio’s education system, the House Republicans made a concerted effort to trim spending from other areas of the budget to ensure more funding for education. House Bill 153 invests an additional $40 million per year to the school foundation formula and guarantees that no district will receive a cut in state aid of more than 20 percent. It expands school choice opportunities for students in underperforming schools by increasing the value of the Cleveland Voucher Program to the same level available under the EdChoice Scholarship Program, increasing the EdChoice program to 60,000 vouchers in FY 2013 and raising the charter school sponsorship cap. It also boosts funding for parochial schools by $5 million, restoring dollars that were unfairly cut in the previous Democrat-enacted budget.

House Bill 153 also provides much-needed transparency for parents and taxpayers by requiring the Ohio Department of Education to report annually to each district its ratio of administrative vs. instructional spending, its per-pupil amount for each purpose and its percentage of funds for operating. “This measure comes at a time when school districts continue to seek increased property tax levies from local taxpayers,” Amstutz said. “My colleagues and I believe that parents and taxpayers deserve to know what their school district is spending on their children’s education before they vote on a levy ballot issue.”

The budget strengthens higher education in Ohio by capping annual tuition increases at 3.5 percent and expanding eligibility for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant. Furthermore, it prompts construction reform to help universities put more money in the classroom and moves Ohio into the digital age by creating a pilot program that utilizes digital textbooks.

It also protects Ohio’s seniors by increasing funding for home care by $15 million over the biennium and offers incentives for local governments to deliver services at a local cost through shared services. Additionally, it ensures that local governments receive either their FY 2011 local government fund allocation or at least $500,000.

“I am very pleased by the hard work of Rep. Amstutz, Vice-chair John Carey and the Finance Committee, as well as the diligence and thoughtful debate of the members of the House,” said Speaker of the House William G. Batchelder (R-Medina). “No matter what approach we took to fill the $8 billion deficit, this budget certainly was going to be very difficult. But this House handled the challenge with great care and consideration, and I am proud of what we accomplished today.”

House Bill 153 passed from the House by a vote of 59-40 and will now move to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.


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