House Republicans Unveil Budget; Revisiting Energy Standards

Lawmakers have heard hundreds of hours of testimony on Gov. John Kasich’s budget. And there have been plenty of hints that Republicans who dominate the House Finance Committee didn’t like some of the biggest elements in it - the broadening of the state sales tax onto some 80 services that aren’t taxed now, the severance tax hike on big oil and natural gas drillers, the school funding formula and the expansion of Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. But it may not have done any good. The House GOP edition of the budget has little in common with Kasich’s version when it comes to those big items. House Finance Committee chair Ron Amstutz of Wooster unveiled the spending plan at a news conference alongside House Speaker Bill Batchelder.

Democrats blasted the changes – the Ohio Democratic Party put out a release with the headline “Kasich’s State Budget So Extreme, Even Extremists Reject It”. The rejection of the Medicaid expansion was a blow to the governor, who had spent a lot of time, energy and emotion trying to convince lawmakers to go along with it. Meanwhile, Senate President Keith Faber is starting to put out his ideas on the budget.

As the budget gets most of the attention at the Statehouse right now, a bill that could potentially led to the repeal of a law that passed nearly unanimously in 2008 is quietly being discussed in the Senate. The idea from Republican Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati is to revisit the Clean Energy Law, which requires utilities to put in place energy efficiency standards that achieve a 22% savings by 2025, and demands that electric utilities get 25% of their power from advanced energy and renewable resources by that same target year. FirstEnergy spokesman Doug Colafella says the law’s goals are achievable and that the company is meeting the annual targets, but that hasn't come cheap. But groups that backed the law are fighting back against possible changes to it. Nolan Moser is with the Ohio Environmental Council, which has concerns about coal-fired and nuclear plants. And in northeast Ohio, a coalition of business and government groups has formed to oppose changes to the law. Matt Zone is a city councilman in Cleveland, which this week passed a resolution urging lawmakers to leave the energy efficiency and renewable energy standards in the 2008 law and not pull them back.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the deadly riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, the maximum security prison in Lucasville. 12 staff members at the prison were taken hostage by 450 inmates on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993. Over the next 11 days, corrections officer Robert Vallandingham and nine inmates were killed. The Lucasville riot remains the longest deadly prison uprising in US history. This week, three of the five inmates who were sentenced to death for their roles in the riot were planning a hunger strike to protest the state’s refusal to let them talk to reporters. They say the state has had two decades to tell its side of the story about what happened at Lucasville and why, and that they deserve an opportunity to share theirs.

And we conclude with a very unusual conference at the Statehouse this weekend. The Association of Lincoln Presenters met in Columbus and gathered for a short speech in the Ohio House before heading off to other sites. The weekend activities for the impersonators of both Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln included seeing a performance of “Our American Cousin”, which was the play President Lincoln was attending at Ford’s Theatre when he was assassinated on April 14, 1865. And they also are scheduled for a visit to the Ohio Historical Center, where they’ll meet with an impersonator portraying Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

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