The Kent business community received an update on the current state of affairs in Columbus, mainly the state budget process, Thursday by State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent), who represents the 75th district.
"I'm here to tell you about the biggest thing happening in state government right now, and that is the two-year state budget," Clyde said to the Pufferbelly audience of about 45 people during the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce event.
Clyde provided a timeline of both the positives and negatives she sees in the upcoming budget, and the changes that have occurred since it was first proposed by Gov. John Kasich in February.
The budget is currently undergoing final amendments by the Ohio House of Representatives before making its way to the state Senate and on to Kasich's desk.
When it was originally proposed by the governor, the budget included taking $2.4 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid and instituting a severance tax for deep shale drilling activities, both of which Clyde said she was in favor in, but were removed by the Ohio House.
Expanding Medicaid would have been fully funded through federal money, and would have given Ohioans living at 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
"We're saying, 'no' to those $2 billion in federal funds, covering 300,000 Ohioans, 20,000 veterans and I'm not sure if that's going to come back in the Senate.
The drilling severance tax, which was also killed, would have given Ohio the second lowest severance tax in the country, Clyde said.
Clyde, a member of the House's Higher Education Subcommittee, said no major cuts have been made to higher education in this budget, and Kasich replaced some of the cuts from previous budgets.
The budget also initially included a "huge expansion" on taxable services and sales, which was removed with strong bipartisan effort, Clyde said.
"We heard from a lot of businesses about how this would impact doing business in the state of Ohio, how it would be uncompetitive with states around us and it would hit the middle and working class Ohioans especially hard," she said.
No additional cuts are coming to local governments or school districts as the budget currently stands, Clyde said, adding concern that cuts from the past budget are still being felt on the local level.
"Schools were cut $2 billion in the first budget. Only about $1 billion of that has been replaced in theis budget so schools are definitely still hurting," she said, adding that cuts to local governments and school districts only pass the buck to residents and property owners through increased local taxes.
"By failing to adequately fund schools at the state level, all we do is push the burden down to property owners," she said. "I don't want to short change our future. I don't want to limit our long-term growth potential."
Clyde said she strongly opposes a last-minute amendment added in the budget that could make it difficult for college students to vote by requiring universities that provide students with a utility bill or document for voting to charge in-state tuition, regardless of where they're from.
"We've had testimony from the 14 university presidents that this one provision would cost close to $300 million to universities in lost out of state tuition revenue," she said. "I'm hoping that will come out of the budget in the Senate and cooler heads will prevail. We want to get (students) voting, rather than making it harder to vote."
The final two-year state budget will be finalized in June.
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