The Ohio Senate is currently hard at work on the state’s biennial budget bill, House Bill 166. The Senate’s efforts will be brief but intense. We will use the next few weeks to determine funding for state operations and implement other policies that will set the course for Ohio for the next two years.
The state budget is the most significant and most complex bill that the legislature will address during this two-year cycle. The budget funds state agencies and social services at both the state and local levels. It also reflects legislative choices about tax policy, the size and scope of government and the role of government in the economy. Each bill is unique, and each is shaped by economic and fiscal conditions that vary from year to year.
Governor DeWine proposed the budget bill in March, and it was considered by the House of Representatives for several months before being sent to the Senate. We have only a short time to work on it—the bill must be finalized by the end of June. That includes reaching a final agreement between the House, Senate and Governor.
Each budget presents its own set of challenges, as well as opportunities for the Senate to improve our state and keep Ohio moving in the right direction. When I joined the Senate in 2011, Ohio faced an estimated $8 billion shortfall. But instead of raising taxes, we balanced the budget by restraining government spending. We even cut taxes while doing so. This made Ohio more attractive to job creators and set us on the path to recovering from the Great Recession. Over the next two cycles, we enacted a broad series of reforms that included net tax cuts of more than $5 billion dollars. At the same time, we added hundreds of millions of dollars to the state’s school funding formula—larger investments than the state had made in more than a decade. And in 2017, during my first year as Senate President, we closed a $1.1 billion gap while eliminating income taxes for the poorest Ohioans.
Each of these budgets included pro-growth reforms, setting the stage for a stronger economy. It is working, and so are more Ohioans. Ohio has gained more than 523,000 new jobs, dropping our state’s unemployment rate to its lowest point in 18 years.
Like those prior bills, this year’s budget presents important opportunities. Governor DeWine has proposed historic investments in Ohio’s children, families and workforce. These include new, targeted funding to support student wellness and success in schools; nearly doubling the state’s investment in children services agencies; and increasing programs that support mental health and addiction recovery. The bill establishes Opportunity Zones for economically-distressed communities—an idea the Senate passed in stand-alone legislation earlier this year. Governor DeWine also proposed the new “H2Ohio Fund” to ensure safe and clean water across Ohio.
These are all important policies that will make Ohio stronger in the coming years. While we make these investments, however, we will continue to budget conservatively and responsibly. Ohio’s economy is stronger today because recent budgets have adhered to pro-growth policies, including tax cuts and regulatory reform. This year will be no different. The Senate will protect your tax dollars and make sure that you are keeping more of your hard-earned money.
I welcome your input on the biennial budget or on any other bill. If you have questions, or if you have any ideas that you would like to share, you can reach me by phone at (614) 466-7505 or by e-mail at Obhof@ohiosenate.gov. You may also reach me by mail at State Senator Larry Obhof, 1 Capitol Square, 2nd Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215.