Ohio Senate, House vote on the Main Operating Budget, Conference Committee awaits.

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

The Ohio Senate today gave final approval to House Bill 166 by a vote of 33-0. Hours later, the Ohio House voted to reject the Senate changes to the budget, setting the stage for conference committee negotiations to iron out a final agreement on the main operating budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The Senate made a number of changes to the budget proposal, some of which GOPC supports, and some of which GOPC opposes. As the conference committee negotiations get underway, Greater Ohio Policy Center has several final recommendations on the way House Bill 166 can be improved before it is sent to Governor DeWine for his signature.

Property Tax Freeze: The Ohio House of Representatives added language to budget which would treat property owned by residential housing developers differently than other property by freezing the taxes for up to three years or until the sexennial reappraisal is completed or until construction begins, or the property is sold. GOPC has opposed similar legislation (House Bill 149) because of our concerns that the bill incentivizes urban and suburban sprawl at a time when we should instead be supporting infill and density development. The Ohio Senate removed this language from the budget.

GOPC recommends that the Conference Committee support the Senate-version of House Bill 166 and keep this language out of the budget.

GOPC does not object to any community that deliberately chooses to enter into such agreements such as those proposed by HB149 and the House-version of HB166.  However, to enact such a provision as a state mandate will undercut the redevelopment plans of many Ohio communities.

Public Transit Funding: The Ohio Senate zeroed out the public transportation line item in the Department of Transportation budget. This line item provided $6.5 million in each year of the biennium to support the Elderly and Disabled Fare Assistance Program, ensuring Ohio’s most vulnerable residents have access to transportation services to access work, healthcare, and basic personal services. This funding, along with the previously approved funding for public transit in the transportation budget (HB62), is vitally important for transit systems.

While explanations for why this funding has been zeroed out in House Bill 166 have varied, GOPC believes that it is vitally important that this funding be reinstated by the conference committee.

Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Jack Marchbanks, in his testimony to both the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate stated as follows, as it relates to the funding requests for the main operating budget: “the significantly smaller ($6.5 million each year) appropriation in this legislation is still important. This relatively small appropriation item includes $400,000 in annual administrative costs we are required to fund in order to be eligible for federal funding. About $2 million annually is used to fund the Elderly & Disabled fare reimbursement program for small urban and rural transit systems. The remainder is used for grants that help rural and small urban transit systems provide their required match to receive federal grant funding.”

GOPC endorses the position of ODOT as it relates to this funding. We recommend the legislature address this issue in the conference committee by either re-addressing the funding originally allocated in HB62 and increase funding to $76.5 million per year, or reinstate the funding in House Bill 166 ($6.5 million) and remove the spending restrictions inserted into HB62. These provisions required $63.5 million to be spent for capital projects and $6.5 million for operational support. Removing these provisions will provide ODOT with greater flexibility in the allocation of the $70 million allocated by the transportation budget.

Final approval of the budget is expected to occur next week, with Governor DeWine’s approval needed by June 30.