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Ohio has budget that prioritizes

Last week, the state legislature sent the state budget to the governor for his signature. It spends just short of $56 billion over the next two-year budget cycle, and that does not include federal funds.

You would think that there would be a lot of happy people out there, but the reality is that most people and entities affected by the budget would like to have more funding.

The state government could spend every dime of every dollar that a taxpayer makes to fund good programs and ideas, but obviously there has to be a limit. House Bill 153, the budget legislation, strikes a compromise between providing basic services that people need—such as education, medical care for the poor and elderly, and public safety—and making Ohio more competitive.

Some people argue that taxes should be raised to help fill the $8 billion hole that was left by the loss of federal stimulus money from President Obama. I, as well as the majority of my colleagues, believe that we cannot raise taxes and that we need to make Ohio a more attractive place to live and invest in—growing the economy as a source of more revenue. The budget reduces spending in most areas, but mandates and other barriers were eliminated in as many cases as possible to help address the funding issues.

The legislature maintained the income tax cut that was delayed by the last General Assembly to fill a budget hole. In recognizing the importance of agriculture and small business to the economy of this state, the death tax is scheduled for elimination also. A new tax-credit program is created to draw capital investment to spur and expand small business in Ohio.

The two main areas of spending that were increased were Medicaid and education. Medicaid spending still grows because of the loss of federal funds and the number of people using it.

Even though the amount of dollars is increasing, the rate that providers are being paid is being cut at various levels. This is a hard transition for some, and it is concerning. It will be reviewed during the biennium, and hopefully improvements can be made.

Education funding for the primary and secondary schools foundation formula is also increasing by about $200 million in the budget. This helps, but again does not make up for the loss of the money from Washington. I think we all know that the federal government does not have money to give away.

Unfortunately, local governments are hit hard in this budget. I would have liked to have done more in this area to help.

However, I was able to work with Senator Dave Daniels to gain a base amount of $750,000 per year for each county from the local government fund. This budget will require that local governments become more creative and innovative in providing services, which could be a good thing.

On the House floor, some of my colleagues said they were celebrating this budget. But, even as vice-chair of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee, I have never felt that way about any budget. For me it is more like establishing priorities and trying to do the right thing.

It is a difficult budget, and I know I did my best. I also know that needed services and investments will be spurred by this budget and that if it did not pass, the schools would not open and critical care and public safety would not be provided.

In the end, I voted for this budget with a clear conscience and with the hope that it will bring and keep jobs, making our great state stronger.

John Carey serves in Ohio’s 87th District of the House of Representatives, which includes eastern Lawrence County. He can be reached at (614) 466-1366, by writing to: Ohio House of Representatives, 77 S. High St., Columbus, OH 43215, or via e-mail at District87@ohr.state.oh.us.