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Lawmakers must hash out differences in Ohio budget proposals

COLUMBUS (AP) — The Ohio House and Senate agree the next state budget should lower income taxes for individuals, but the size of that cut is among sticking points to be hashed out as they face a June 30 deadline to get a spending plan signed by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

The GOP-led Senate passed its two-year, $69 billion budget proposal Thursday in a rare unanimous vote, with many senators lauding bipartisanship and compromise in the process. The budget is likely headed for a joint legislative committee to work out differences between that plan and the version previously approved by the Republican-controlled House.

The Senate version eliminates the bottom two tax brackets and decreases personal income tax rates for the others by 8 percent over two years. The House’s proposed cut was 6.6 percent.

“We’re saying the best investment is to return your money,” said Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, who leads the Senate Finance Committee.

The ranking Democrat from the committee, Sen. Vernon Sykes of Akron, called the tax cut unnecessary and unwise, noting that Ohio tax revenue has exceeded projections this fiscal year. But he praised the proposed investments to benefit children, education and the environment.

“The good things outweigh the bad. … Why would I not vote for this budget?” Sykes said.

The Senate proposal would push back Ohio’s presidential primary election date in March and direct more money toward water quality initiatives, local governments, libraries and public television stations. Like the House plan, it would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, but it would add taxes on vaping products.

It also would require hospitals to post their standard pricing online, and add more reporting and audit requirements for pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, the private companies that contract with governments to manage prescription programs.

High school graduation requirements would change under the Senate plan, starting with the class of 2023, to reduce state tests and allow for non-test alternatives toward getting a diploma.