By REGINA GARCIA CANO
Despite being foiled on Medicaid expansion, Gov. John Kasich praised the Legislature on Friday for passing a spending bill he says will generate jobs through tax cuts and tying college funding to graduation rates.
Kasich predicted he and legislators will agree by the end of the year on how to restructure the state’s Medicaid program, which provides coverage for one of every five Ohio residents.
“We believe we still have ample time to get this done,” Kasich said at a press conference on the state budget with Ohio Senate President Keith Faber and Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, both fellow Republicans.
Kasich had exhorted legislators to take advantage of Medicaid expansion made available to states under President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul, which would bring the state federal dollars. The expansion is a key component of the Affordable Care Act, which requires that nearly all Americans have health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty.
The state Legislature on Thursday okayed a $62 billion, two-year operating budget that cuts personal income taxes, changes the way public schools and universities are funded, and adds abortion restrictions.
Tax changes in the bill will mean an estimated $2.7 billion in overall tax cuts over three years, including through a phased in income-tax cut for individuals and small businesses. The cut is partly paid for by increasing the state sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent.
A Kasich 2014 Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, called it “indefensible” to shift taxes as the bill does.
“Overall, this budget is just a train wreck for the middle class,” he said during a Friday news conference. “What you’re seeing is income-tax (relief) for the very wealthiest people in the state being paid for by really increasing the tax burden on the middle class and the poor.”
Lawmakers revamped ground rules for funding public colleges and universities to more closely tie graduation rates to the schools’ state aid. Under the plan, which Kasich is expected to sign into law by a Sunday deadline, universities won’t receive a portion of their per-pupil funding until the student has graduated. Kasich said this will give students’ parents more confidence that their children will finish their degree.
“Stop and think about how many students enter our very expensive four-year schools, spend two years and drop out, have no certificate, no degree, nothing to show other than high bills,” Kasich told reporters at the Governor’s Residence.
Kasich declined to say what items he might line-item veto from the budget bill. Various groups are urging him to strike a provision that limits the administration’s ability to add new Medicaid enrollees and to remove provisions effectively defunding Planned Parenthood and requiring doctors to share with a pregnant woman signs of the fetal heartbeat before the woman gets an abortion.
FitzGerald said that if elected governor, he would veto all items limiting women’s access to reproductive health care, and he called on Kasich to do the same.
“These types of divisive restrictions have no place in a budget bill,” FitzGerald said. “Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to have a fair and free and open debate on those. They were tucked into a budget bill and rammed through at the last moment.”
Kasich acknowledged Friday that either he or members of his staff were aware of most provisions as they moved in and out of the bill, but he defended the Legislature’s prerogative to put its stamp on the legislation. He said that in considering what to veto, “keep in mind I’m pro-life.”
FitzGerald criticized Kasich for an inability to build consensus, given that he was unable to persuade fellow Republicans who lead both legislative chambers to support Medicaid expansion and a tax increase on oil and gas drillers.
“The governor somehow managed to offend both local communities and the oil and gas industry, and not get the proposal passed in the first place,” he said.
Kasich acknowledged his own frustration that Medicaid expansion and drilling-tax proposals were left out — hinting that Batchelder had been the road block to both.
“I don’t know if we’ll get it as long as he’s around. We might. I’m not giving up on that,” Kasich said. “I know the business community feels strongly about it. If we don’t get it, then I’ll be sad to see him go — except on that issue.”