Gov. DeWine signs $86B state budget

Gov. DeWine signs $86B state budget, vetoes pro-tobacco provisions

Gov. Mike DeWine displays the signature page on the 2024-25 state budget he signed July 4th, 2023.jpg
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Gov. Mike DeWine signed an $86 billion budget that contains state income tax breaks, financial aid for any student in Ohio who wants to attend a private or charter school, and a new requirement for parental approval of social media accounts for children under 16.

“I am proud to sign this budget, and while it makes historic investments in Ohioans across their lives, I believe we are doing more to support and encourage Ohio’s children to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives than ever before,” DeWine said in a news release emailed at 2:57 a.m. Tuesday

He signed the measure at 12:56 am at his office in the Riffe Center, with staff from his office and Office of Budget and Management on hand.

With some $3 billion in tax cuts over the two-year budget period, Ohioans will see just two tax brackets: One with a marginal tax rate of 2.75% for incomes above $26,050, the other with a rate of 3.5% for those making more than $100.000. Households making under $26,050 would pay no state income tax.

DeWine rejected pleas from Democrats and public schools to pare back the historic expansion of school vouchers. Families earning up to 450% of the federal poverty level – $135,000 a year for a household of four – would qualify for a full state-funded scholarship. Aid for those with higher incomes would be determined on a sliding scale.

“I am pleased with vetoes that better protect child care quality, public health, and the state’s financial resources,” said House Democratic leader Allison Russo of Upper Arlington.

“However, the governor failed to veto key accountability and transparency restrictions relative to dissolving the elected state school board, expanding private school vouchers to an unsustainable level, and keeping over one billion dollars in opioid settlement money a secret. I am proud of our Democratic lawmakers for tempering what could have been an extreme and dangerous budget. ”

The secrecy referred to by Russo involves $1.1 billion in money obtained by Ohio governments in a massive drug settlement. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled the group divvying up the cash was a public body. But the Senate GOP voted to shield the foundation from public scrutiny, and DeWine went along.

Meanwhile, renowned school-funding expert Howard Fleeter contrasted the increased funding for private and charter schools with the money going to traditional public schools:

  • Total biennial increase on voucher spending: $825.5 million, a 77% increase.
  • Total biennial increase on K-12 school districts: $1.54 billion, a 12% increase.

State foundation funding for Columbus City Schools would increase from $175 million this year to $198 million next year and $203 million the following year, Fleeter estimated.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted praised restoration of an administration proposal that requires an online operator to obtain and verify parental or legal guardian consent from any consumer under the age of 16 and not emancipated.

Governor preserves flavored tobacco ban in Columbus and other cities, nixes anti-vax proviso

However, the governor also issued 44 line-item vetoes, exercising a power given to Ohio’s CEO that not even the president has.

One came on a proposed expansion of Ohio’s annual state sales tax holiday to 14 days in 2024, with the state tax commissioner, Office of Budget and Management director and the County Commissioners Association to set the length of time for sales tax holidays in 2025 and beyond, depending upon the surplus available.

While DeWine said he supports the longer tax holiday, he notes the additional state and local revenue loss “cannot be estimated.” So he wants the same trio that would have set the length of sales tax holidays for 2025 and thereafter to also do so next year.

The legislature would have to adopt a revised measure to make that happen – or override DeWine’s veto. The latter requires approval of 60% from both the House and Senate – a margin that DeWine’s fellow Republicans easily possess in each chamber.

The governor also rejected the legislature’s attempt to bar local regulation of tobacco products and alternative nicotine products, which presumably would have wiped out the city of Columbus’ restrictions.

“Tobacco and alternative nicotine products also have a direct impact on increasing health care costs for all Ohioans,” said DeWine, a longtime opponent of tobacco use, especially among youth.

“Worse yet, the marketing of flavored tobacco products often targets children,” he added. “In the absence of an effective and comprehensive statewide flavored tobacco ban (including menthol) — which is this administration’s preferred policy approach — local government bans are essential because they reduce access to flavored tobacco and nicotine alternative products and interrupt the cycle of addiction.

“The removal of local regulation would encourage youth nicotine addiction and immediately undo years of progress to improve public health, which is why a similar provision was previously vetoed.”

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network had called on DeWine to veto that provision, saying, “Amid the growing youth tobacco epidemic, we need local laws to protect our kids, not state interference.”

After he fulfilled their wish, government relations director Leo Almeida said the group “commends the governor for standing up for Ohio’s youth and keeping local government rights to pass laws stronger than the state law, which is proven to promote good health and well-being.”

DeWine vetoed another pro-tobacco budget item that would have required the state to provide an excise tax refund to cigarette wholesalers or tobacco distributors when retailer businesses fail to pay for cigarette and other tobacco/vapor purchases.

“The proposed provision would not only allow harmful substances to enter Ohio untaxed, but it would make it possible for these products to be sold in Ohio untaxed and without any record of the product ever being in the state,” the governor said in his veto message.

In another health-related veto, DeWine turned back a provision that would have allowed any student to decline vaccines required for enrollment or residence in university dorms at a private college or state institution of higher education.

“This item would subject a religiously affiliated institution of higher education to having to legally accept a student’s reason of conscience for foregoing vaccinations even if that reason is in direct conflict with the teachings of the religion,” he said. “In addition, university and college dormitories and student housing are congregate settings where such policy may be of great importance to ensure resident safety. This item is overly broad and may compromise the overall health and safety of students, residents, staff, and faculty at the institution.”

Vetoes of special interest goodies, elimination of student trustees at Ohio State

A sample of other vetoes, including several of budget items carving out special perks for various interest groups:

  • A ban on “foreign adversaries” from owning agricultural land in Ohio. DeWine’s reason for vetoing: “Restricting ownership of Ohio farmland protects Ohio’s rich agricultural tradition from adverse interests. However, including other non-agricultural real property in this provision could have unintended economic development consequences.”
  • Increasing the number of child care programs exempt from the state’s upgraded Step Up To Quality rating requirements. ” With 90 percent of brain development completed in the first five years of life, Ohio must ensure that children have quality supports and services to help them thrive early so they can succeed later in life.”
  • Eliminating a requirement that every participant in the assisted living waiver program administered by the Ohio Department of Aging is entitled to a private bathroom. “This provision would unnecessarily lower the standard of care that residents in Ohio’s assisted living facilities deserve. Furthermore, allowing for shared bathrooms is not under the direct authority of the Ohio Department of Aging and would require federal approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”
  • Exempting federally qualified health centers that provide specialty behavioral health-care services from certification by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “This budget prioritizes the quality and integrity of mental health and substance use disorder services in Ohio by ensuring all providers meet certification standards that ensure consistent, high-quality services are being delivered.”
  • Removing certain open-air structures from fire code sprinkler requirements. “Our current system is designed to have strict standards with the ability for local inspectors to issue variances from certain codes when appropriate, and this provision could result in a significant life safety risk to Ohioans. Further, giving the director of commerce authority over the enforcement of local fire code would be an improper insertion of a state agency into the operations of Ohio’s local governments and impede their ability to protect their residents.
  • Ending the Ohio Department of Commerce’s longstanding ability to conduct an independent review of high-risk real estate investment trusts marketed and sold in Ohio. “The Division of Securities has used this authority for more than 100 years to screen out fraudulent deals to protect Ohio investors. Commerce’s review of these high-risk investments protects vulnerable Ohioans. In recent years, investors nationwide have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent products that were either denied access by Commerce or did not even attempt to market and sell in Ohio.”
Ohio Senate Democratic leader Nickie Antonio of Lakewood and her colleagues called for several vetoes on the budget bill passed by Republicans, but they were mostly frustrated by Gov. Mike DeWine. (Screenshot)
  • Removing the Ohio Department of Transportation from the review process that approves funding for the development and construction of major highway projects. “This item changes the historically successful membership composition to exclude the director of ODOT from voting and changes the appointment process of other members. The removal of the director’s vote denies the agency charged with implementing the (construction) a meaningful seat at the table to represent the agency’s challenges and concerns.”
  • Exempting suppliers of liquified petroleum gas from civil product liability unless the supplier’s misconduct was proven to be intentional. “This would be a significant change to Ohio’s well developed, settled, and fair product liability tort law that was reformed in the mid 2000s and would give considerable legal protection to a very specific specialized industry by seemingly absolving it of certain causes of action and meaningful duty of care.”
  • Booting student members from the Ohio State University’s board of trustees. “The board is in the best position to decide whether having students as voting members is in the best interest of the university. The board already has the authority to revoke the student members’ voting power if it determines that it is in the best interest of the university, and that decision is best left with the board.”