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Ohio Senate Democrats don't like many elements of supermajority Republicans' budget plan

Ohio Senate Democrats discuss their priority legislation for the 135 General Assembly in January 2023
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Senate Democrats discuss their priority legislation for the 135 General Assembly in a session with reporters in January 2023.

When Republican leaders of the Ohio Senate introduced the draft version of that chamber’s proposed two-year state budget last week, longtime Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) said he was cautiously optimistic.

But now he’s had a chance to dig into that document and see how it varies from the House-passed budget and the one Republican Gov. Mike DeWine proposed. And Sykes said he doesn’t like much of what he sees.

“This budget favors private schools over public schools, and fails to support students and teachers,” Sykes said.

The Senate plan expands vouchers so that a family of four earning $135,000 a year would be able to qualify for a full voucher. And families making more than that amount would still be able to get a smaller voucher.

Sykes said 55% of the new vouchers issued by the state this year went to families who were already attending private schools, and he said the percentage of lower-income students who are attending private schools with vouchers has decreased since 2014.

Sykes also said because of changes written into the Senate budget plan, Cincinnati Public Schools will lose $30 million, Columbus’ public schools will lose $26 million and Cleveland schools will lose $36 million. “We cannot continue to bleed our public schools to subsidize our private schools,” Sykes said.

Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said it’s not just public schools that would suffer. She said the Senate budget cuts back funding for health care for low-income families, guts child care subsidies for low-income working families and cuts money for food banks while putting unfair regulations on them.

“It actually requires 16-year-olds from low-income families to participate in a work program for food, but gives private school vouchers to the children of millionaires with no strings attached,” Antonio said.

Antonio also takes issue with the proposed tax cuts in the Senate plan. It offers a flatter tax, eliminating the top income tax bracket and creating just two tax brackets of 2.75% and 3.5%.

But Republicans are quick to point out that the Senate draft budget also expands the statewide back-to-school tax holiday in August to include more items and extends it from one week to two. Antonio and Democrats say that sales tax holiday isn’t much when you consider the other ways lower income Ohioans will be impacted.

"This is an extreme takeover of state funds for the wealthy and well connected,” Antonio said.

Democrats also don’t like that a Senate-passed bill that takes power away from the partially-elected State School Board and gives it to the legislature and the governor was added into the budget. Also added in is the controversial bill that seeks to push back on what Republicans see as "cancel culture" at colleges and universities. That measure, which has passed the Senate, bans most diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training and faculty strikes, and says intellectual diversity to be expressed on specific "controversial issues” identified "climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion."

There are seven Democrats in Ohio’s 33-member Senate, so their votes alone won’t make a difference in what passes out of that chamber. But they are hoping the House and DeWine will pressure Republicans in the Senate to make changes as the budget goes through the legislative process.

President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he expects senators to vote on the budget this week.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.