Lawmakers are back for the second year of the legislature’s two-year session. And while they passed nearly 60 bills last year, there are hundreds more bills that have been introduced – some are halfway through the legislature, some are awaiting hearings and others have no chance of passing. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler sat down with the leaders in the Ohio Senate to talk about what’s ahead for 2014.
Taxes lead the list of projects for this year for the state’s top Republicans. They’ve repeatedly said that while the last two budgets cut the income tax, they’re not done with tax trimming.
But Gov. John Kasich still also wants what he’s called a reasonable severance tax on oil and natural gas drillers. Republican Senate President Keith Faber of Celina in western Ohio said he’s watching a plan from GOP House leaders.
“There’s a new proposal for a severance tax adjustment that I think many on both sides of the aisle support in some form or another -- the question is what form," Faber said.
Faber acknowledged that Kasich would like a bigger severance tax increase.
"And we’ll see what happens with that," Faber said. "There are other items. I think the goal is still to reduce the income tax rates.”
While Faber said jobs are created with income tax cuts, newly installed Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman near Youngstown said he has never heard the income tax cited as a reason for a business leaving Ohio or choosing to move here.
“We need to do something else to increase jobs in the state of Ohio, and I think that’s making the proper investments in training, that’s making the proper investments in specific companies, that’s making proper investments into local communities and schools," Schiavoni said. "And until we do that, I’m not sure these numbers are going to move.”
Schiavoni said a severance tax is one way to raise the money needed for those investments.
Last year, the Senate passed several election law changes, including the bill to allow the Secretary of State to send out unsolicited absentee ballot applications for presidential and gubernatorial elections and a bill to shorten the early voting period by six days.
Election law changes are likely to come up again this election year, and there are also other controversial bills that will be before Senators that have passed the House, including a bill banning traffic cameras and the so-called Stand Your Ground update. The Senate has passed conservative bills in the last few years, and with Republicans outnumbering Democrats two-to-one, that’s likely to continue.
But Faber said measures dealing with jobs and the economy are his top priority.
“I think some 85 percent of bills we passed had bipartisan votes or bipartisan support," Faber said. "And so when people talk about those few that don’t, it tends to get all the attention. But the meat and potatoes of what we do every day is things where we work across the aisle very well. We’re not Congress, and I’m pretty proud of that. And so we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Schiavoni said he’s on board with jobs-related bills, though Democrats have different ideas on what creates jobs than Republicans do. But he also wants to see other measures approved, including some school safety proposals and a bill requiring insurers to cover oral chemotherapy.
“Those aren’t political. We shouldn’t waste a lot of our time talking about voting bills and abortion bills, all these political bills that get everybody up in arms. Let’s work on things that make sense that people need, and I think that we can do that this year.”
One thing the leaders do agree on – their support of the $1.9 billion bond issue that will likely be before voters in the May primary. The proceeds of that will fund local government infrastructure projects including water, road and bridge construction and improvements.