The Governor signed the budget at 11:30pm on Friday June 30th. It went into effect only a few moments later at midnight. What everyone wants to know, what do these thousands of pages mean for Ohioans moving forward? The big picture is that our legislature continues to operate from a position of scarcity - not thinking we have enough. Ohio can solve poverty, hunger, homelessness, high tuition and so much more if we were willing to invest in what works.
Here is a quick rundown of some specific areas where faith advocates invested time and energy.
1. Food bank funding: Flat. When the legislative year began, HNO, The Ohio Food Banks and others asked for a $5 million a year increase to meet current demand. The House proposed a $500,000 a year cut! The Senate removed that cut, but were unwilling to increase spending. Ohio will remain near the bottom of states for hungry Ohioans. Including higher rates than the majority of the nation for senior and childhood hunger.
2. Housing: Flat. Likewise, HNO joined with housing advocates to push for increased funding for the Ohio Housing Trust Fund. The Ohio House of Representatives included the fee increase, but the Senate removed it. This means that there will be less money to invest in affordable housing programs, homeless shelters, and assistance for those trying to maintain stability.
3. School funding: Underfunded. Education remains one of the biggest components of the state budget. The state's own funding formula identifies additional money for many districts. Sadly, more than half of all school districts in Ohio will receive flat funding or a funding cut next year. The legislature also walked back small increases for higher education, and instead will allow tuition to continue to rise on Ohio students, keeping Ohio students at a disadvantage to their peers around the country.
4. Healthcare: under threat. Medicaid continues to be a dominant expenditure in the state budget as well. The legislature passed a budget with major cuts to the health insurance program that covers nearly 3 million Ohioans - many of whom are children or disabled. The Governor vetoed many of these provisions, but the House voted after the July 4th holiday to override vetoes that will put in place new beaucratic rules for approval of funding, work requirements and much more. However, they were unable, at the time, to override a freeze on Medicaid expansion - this one provision would have cost 500,000 Ohioans health insurance over the next couple of years.
5. Taxes: the same. The Ohio legislature continues to place their faith on a false gospel of tax cuts to prosperity. We watched Kansas and Illinois recently pass income tax increases to balance their budgets with bi-partisan support. Ohio legislature should look at a balanced approach to budgeting so that we can invest in our food banks, affordable housing, and much more to help those who are struggling to the most to get by. The Legislature continues to look seriously at a handful of tax expenditures and deductions, such as one for LLC's and partnerships, that could generate more than a billion dollars in revenue if repealed.
This summer, as you see legislators around town at fairs and festivals tell them that you hope they focus on solving problems like hunger when they return to Columbus.