Gov. Ted Strickland took his first budget to the final day, signing the $52 billion spending plan just hours before the fiscal year ended Saturday, and after making good on his threat to veto a tax-funded voucher program to allow special-needs students to attend private schools.
The budget freezes college tuition for two years and supplies $100 million in scholarships for the math and science students Strickland and legislative leaders say are needed to bolster Ohio’s economy.
It also expands a program that allows poor children to be eligible for health insurance and provides a property tax break for people 65 and older.
Both chambers of the Legislature passed the budget on Wednesday.
Bickering has been intense in recent budgets, as political factions vied for their pet programs amid an atmosphere of limited resources. But in the wake of last year’s political power shift in which Democrats including Strickland captured four of five statewide races, this year’s budget received just a single ‘no’ vote out of 264 potential votes on the bill’s various versions.
“This budget represents a historic consensus. But long after our agreement is forgotten, the people of Ohio will be benefiting from what we agreed upon,” the governor said.
Republicans, all smiles with the governor during a joint appearance after the budget’s passage, criticized Strickland for the voucher veto and two other vetoes of provisions that would have reined in his authority to spend certain funds without Legislative approval.
“The governor’s veto has made this a sad day for special-needs children in Ohio. It strips hope away from parents seeking a better education for their children,” House Speaker Jon Husted, a suburban Dayton Republican, said. “I want these families to know that this is not the end of the road and that I will continue to fight to change the Governor’s mind and the law.”
Senate President Bill Harris, an Ashland Republican, said the governor’s office had advised him that Strickland was going to veto the special-needs voucher program.
“I was disappointed that they actually did,” Harris said. “But it doesn’t take away the fact that I think it’s an outstanding, positive budget.”
The other two vetoes Republicans objected to would have required the administration to report more spending changes to the state Controlling Board, a legislative panel that approves such changes, and give that board authority over the transfer of $325 million over the two years to a Medicaid reserve fund.
“The purpose of the state Controlling Board is to ensure transparency with public tax dollars. With this move today, the windows into the governor’s spending practices have been darkened,” said Rep. Matthew Dolan, a suburban Cleveland Republican and chairman of the House Finance Committee.
Attempts to override any Strickland veto are remote. A three-fifths majority in each chamber is required. That means 60 votes in the House, which has just 54 GOP members. House Republican spokeswoman Karen Tabor said her caucus had not yet decided whether to challenge the governor. Any override attempt would have to begin in the House, where the budget bill was introduced.
Strickland also vetoed attempts to limit the Ohio Lottery’s Commission’s authority to set ticket prices. He also removed limits to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ ability to control the cost of prescription mental health medication.
The governor also struck a provision that would have created a fund to be used exclusively for abstinence-based sex education.
“Available evidence demonstrates that utilizing an approach that includes abstinence education and vital health information will serve to better protect the health and well-being of our youth,” he said.
Both Strickland and Husted proposed a one year tuition freeze with a 3-percent cap on increases in the other year. The Senate froze tuition for two years and that plan was included in the final budget document approved by both chambers in a near unanimous vote.
Also in the budget is $100 million for science, technology, engineering and math scholarships and more money for high schools that prepare students in those fields.
Strickland also won approval of an expansion of a program that allows poor children to be eligible for Medicaid coverage, another that allows eligible middle-class families to buy into the government health insurance program for a low premium and coverage for higher wage families with children uninsurable through the private market.
Part of the proceeds from the sale of Ohio’s tobacco settlement installment payments expected to bring $5 billion from investors will fund a property tax break for all homeowners 65 and older, not just those who meet current eligibility requirements.
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