Just days before Governor John Kasich is set to make his State of the State speech, Democrats in the Ohio Senate are releasing their priorities for the budget update he’s expected to unveil soon. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the Democrats’ list starts with restoring some tax breaks cut by the legislature last year.
It’s hard to believe Democrats and Republicans are talking about the same Ohio. Democratic State Sen. Joe Schiavoni said Ohioans are hurting under the current GOP leadership.
"Thirty-one thousand more Ohioans are unemployed today than they were this time last year," Schiavoni said. "Ohio is 45th in the nation in job creation. Ohio’s unemployment rate has grown more than any other state over the past year. Those are all numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The governor has increased sales tax and pushed for tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, while at the same time kicking thousands of Ohioans off food assistance."
But Republican State Senator Larry Obhof said Ohioans are better off now.
"We’ve had about 170,000 net new private sector jobs," Obhof said. "Ohio is now ranked seventh among the 50 states for its overall fiscal condition. We’ve actually had our credit outlook upgraded. We’ve replenished the rainy day fund. It was down around 89 cents when Gov. Strickland left office, and now it’s about $1.5 billion."
Democrats say there are more Ohioans living in poverty now than three years ago. Schiavoni said Gov. Kasich’s budget update called the mid-biennial review should include return of specific tax breaks for homeowners that were eliminated by the Republican-dominated state legislature last year.
"We shouldn’t be helping to balance the budget on the backs of seniors in Ohio," he said. "We should help them enjoy a good quality of life towards the end of their life after retirement. We should also reinstate the property tax rollback," continued Schiavoni, "There’s no reason that we took that 12 percent state share away from paying toward levies in the state of Ohio. So now not only is it very difficult to pass levies, but now you have to pass more expensive levies."
Schiavoni said Ohio’s severance tax on oil and gas drillers should be raised to be in line with other states. And he says the state could use money saved through the Medicaid expansion and money from the state’s rainy day fund to reinstate those tax breaks that were eliminated last year.
But Obhof said the tax breaks Schiavoni wants to reinstate were removed as part of a tax reform package that lowered income taxes and improved Ohio’s business climate.
"Where we are at now is a better place than where we were a year ago," Obhof said. "And if you look at the overall package, we did make some significant steps in the right direction."
Obhof said he’d like to see the income tax in Ohio lowered even more to make the state even more attractive to new businesses.
But Democrats, such as State Sen. Charleta Tavares, say middle- and low-income Ohioans are not benefiting much from the income tax cuts. She said the state needs to invest more in drug addiction services, restore food assistance to needy families and make education more affordable and accountable for public school students.
"When we talk about ensuring that we are taking care of the basic needs of all of our residents, the money that we save out of Medicaid, the money that we have in the rainy day fund, those should be used on the services and programs that are going to meet the needs of all Ohioans," Tavares said.
But Obhof said the Democrats want to return to failed policies.
"The big picture things that I got from if you listen to the Democratic leadership is that we should take more of the taxpayer’s money and we should raid the rainy day fund," he said. "And I disagree with that approach. I think we’ve already tried that approach under Gov. Strickland and it was bad for the state."
Some of the proposals the Democrats want in the upcoming mid-biennial review, or MBR, might have a chance of getting funding. What Republicans want will matter most when it comes to the MBR, because they control the legislature and every elected statewide office right now. What Democrats want could come into play in the fall, when Kasich is up for re-election.
And it will be Ohioans will decide whether to return him and the policies of the past three years -- or whether to embrace the Democratic agenda and possible Democratic nominee Ed FitzGerald.