Ohio Dems Push Priorities

A tax structure that supports the middle class-accessibility to health care-well-funded schools-and stronger local communities. As far as the House Democrats' agenda is concerned-these are the pillars.

"It's time to get back to the basics. To get back to what makes our communities vibrant-our citizens thrive and our state great again."

That's Representative Denise Driehaus of Cincinnati. As top Democrat on the House finance committee-she and the rest of her caucus say they plan to achieve a lot of their priorities through the upcoming budget, even though the Democratic caucus is the smallest it's been in nearly 50 years.

Republican Gov. John Kasich plans to release his budget proposal next week and many believe he'll stick to his trend of cutting the income tax. The Democrats say this has been shifting too much burden onto the middle class while benefiting the rich.

The liberal-leaning research group Policy Matters Ohio released a report that says Ohio's top income-earners pay an average of 7% of their income to taxes, while the middle class pays an average of 10.6%.

Democratic Representative Jack Cera of Bellaire-which is on the state's eastern border-says these proportions are unfair.

"This means middle and working class Ohioans are paying more than their fair share to fund schools, roads, prisons, health care, libraries, recreation centers, services for children and senior citizens and business incentives."

One fight that could unite House Democrats with Kasich is the battle over Medicaid expansion. Kasich is expected to-once again-bring the measure to the Legislature. Last time the expansion won approval from a lawmaker panel but not the full General Assembly.

The question remains: what approach will leaders take in reauthorizing Medicaid expansion?

Democratic Representative Nickie Antonio of Lakewood says they're onboard as long as it doesn't contradict their main ideals.

"We know that when preventative health care in the long-term is available it is very cost effective so we're going to look and see what the proposals are and then continue our consistency in supporting that every Ohioan has access to health care."

Along the lines of supporting education-Democratic Representative Dan Ramos of Lorain added to the call for more regulations on charter schools. Ramos pointed to the recent state audit that showed discrepancies in attendance records. He says this is the latest example for the need for more accountability.

"Families cannot afford to keep funding unaccountable failing charter schools to the detriment of all of our children's future. It is time for systemic change."

The Senate education committee chair and pro-charter school advocates have agreed that new provisions should be added to expand accountability.

The House Republicans plan on releasing their legislative priorities later this week. Senate Republicans have yet to announce their plans, but Senate Democrats announced their priorities last week, including tax changes, Medicaid expansion, charter school reform and increasing the minimum wage.

Andy Chow at the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau.

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