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2013 Ohio Budget Included Many Other Controversial Bills

When you look back at what the Ohio legislature did this year, you’ll discover a lot of controversial bills didn’t actually pass both chambers. Perhaps the biggest bill passed this year, the $62 billion dollar budget, also had some of those controversial bills attached to it.

WhenGov. John Kasich introduced his version of the proposed two year state budget in January, it included expanding Medicaid in Ohio and raising the sales tax to offset a break in income taxes.  Some lawmakers and political pundits immediately couched Kasich’s plan as a tax increase, a point that prompted Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett to fire back.

“The budget cuts taxes for every Ohioan by one point four billion dollars,” said Bennett.

Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern liked the part about expanding Medicaid but claimed the tax reform shifted the burden to middle and low income Ohioans.  Redfern described them this way:

“As you are shifting the burden around, you are moving seats around on the Titanic.”

But Republicans took issue with the Governor’s budget for several reasons. Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder pretty much guaranteed the house wouldn’t accept the Governor’s budget because of expansion of Medicaid and opposition to severance taxes.

The sentiment was similar in the Senate, where President Keith Faber said it wouldn’t be likely the governor would get everything he wanted. The House stripped out the Medicaid expansion, the severance tax on gas and oil and reduced the sales tax increase and income tax cut.  Then it went to Senators.  The Senate’s spending plan means tested the homestead tax cut so that those who turn 65 in the future won’t automatically qualify for the property tax relief.  Several controversial abortion related amendments at the last minute and those remained in the budget when the house and senate approved the final version of the budget in late June.  Governor Kasich signed the two year state budget, including the abortion provisions, but promised to revisit a couple of items.

"Medicaid is not in there," said Kasich.  "The leaders say they want to do something, but let me be clear: this is not over.  The severance tax fight is not over.  Medicaid expansion fight is not over.  We are going to stay on this thing until we get it.”

Months later, Kasich used a legislative panel to push through the Medicaid expansion he wanted but that move is being contested in court.  The fight over the abortion amendments isn’t over either.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is suing the state over those provisions.  
2013 was the year that Ohio lawmakers decided to ban internet café sweepstakes.  In June, the Ohio legislature passed a plan to shut down those storefront places known as sweepstakes parlors after Senate President Keith Faber said Senators had decided to adopt a house passed plan with some minor changes. Why the change of heart?

“I am convinced that these entities are not only illegal but many of them also engage in criminal activities within their facilities so the time to act is now,” said Faber.

Internet café operators disagreed they were doing anything illegal in their businesses and they vowed to gather signatures to let Ohio voters decide the issue.  But this fall, backers of that plan said they didn’t collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot in time to stop the closure of those facilities.

Ohio lawmakers also passed some controversial elections bills, including one that would make it harder for minor parties to get on the ballot.  And the impact of that one could prove important in 2014 when Governor Kasich is up for re-election.