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COLUMBUS -- The heads of the Ohio Republican and Democratic parties came out swinging Thursday to start what will likely be a months-long, knock-down, drag-out fight over GOP Gov. John Kasich's budget proposal.
Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett swung first, at a late morning press conference, where he called Democrats who have opposed Kasich's policies "job killers," and unveiled a new website spotlighting at least one potential minority party challenger for statewide office.
"I know John Kasich well enough to know his motivation is creating jobs and opportunity for as many people as possible," Bennett said. "What happens to be right for Ohio and, much to the Democrats' dismay, what is right is good politics as well. "
But Democratic Party Chairman and State Rep. Chris Redfern, speaking later in the day, slammed Kasich and Bennett, focusing his comments on the governor's proposal to expand sales tax collections to services.
"After decades of slandering taxes, they're in the uncomfortable political position to support John Kasich's thousands of new sales taxes," Redfern said. "Make no mistake: This budget shifts the tax burden in Ohio away from the super wealthy and Kasich's political contributors directly on the shoulders more and more so of regular working class Ohioans."
The dueling press conferences came days after Kasich unveiled a $63 billion-plus two-year spending plan that included changes to the way Ohio funds its public schools, an increase in eligibility for health care coverage for needy residents and a tax reform package that includes cuts to income and sales tax rates, a broadening of the latter to require payments on services and a hike on collections related to oil and gas produced via horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The House finance committee began its deliberations on the general operating budget, with final passage expected by late June. Many groups and a number of Statehouse Democrats have voiced their support for provisions that would expand Medicaid, but minority party members already are voicing concern about Kasich's tax plan, which they say amounts to tax hike on lower- and middle-income residents.
Redfern said Thursday that Democratic lawmakers will attempt to split the Medicaid measures into a separate bill. Otherwise, the minority party is "adamantly" opposing the biennial budget as offered, including the altered sales tax setup.
"He gets you coming, he gets you going, literally speaking...," Redfern said, speaking of the lengthy list of services that would be subject to state sales tax under the governor's proposal. "He gets you in your funeral casket, he gets you when you're born. ... When your lawyer is paying the fees for your foreclosure, he gets you with another tax."
But Bennett called Democrats obstructionists who are opposing any policy proposals brought by the governor -- proposals that have helped the state increase its jobs numbers over the past two years.
"... The Democrats have taken the position that they're going to vote against the budget regardless and are not going to participate in the process and they're just going to be against it to be against the governor," Bennett said. "... They came out even before they had a chance to look at the details on the budget and they were out there criticizing and saying that they were opposed to it. And they're putting out false information."
But Bennett stopped short of offering the Ohio Republican Party's formal endorsement of Kasich's biennial budget.
"We're neither endorsing, nor are we opposing it in any way, the governor's budget," Bennett said. "What we are doing is saying let the legislative process take place."
He added, "I like the thrust of the governor's overall budget plan. I think it's good for Ohio. It will create jobs."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.