O'Brien: Valley Lawmakers Vote No On Unbalanced State Budget
Delegation opposes continued cuts to schools and local communities

State Reps. John Boccieri (D-Poland), Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown), Michael O’Brien (D-Warren) and Glenn Holmes (D-McDonald) today voted to reject House Bill 49, the $63.7 billion state budget bill, which remains hundreds of millions of dollars out of balance, if not more. Valley legislators were concerned that the budget failed to protect schools and local communities from further cuts, and included no fix for the funding counties and transit systems are slated to lose with changes to Medicaid managed care organization (MCO) taxes.

“After years of shifting the responsibility to fund services to local governments and tax cuts for the wealthy, we now find Ohio lags in nearly every economic indicator as compared to the rest of the country,” said Rep. Boccieri. “We need strategic investments in schools, workforce training, and – for crying out loud – pave our roads.”

Over half of the school districts in Mahoning County are losing funding under the bill and already-strapped local governments once again will see no additional return of tax dollars from the state. The Valley delegation was also deeply concerned about the procedural hurdle incorporated into the bill that will likely prevent continued funding for the Medicaid expansion population.

“The budget proves once again that slashing taxes for the wealthy and failing to invest in our schools, neighborhoods, infrastructure and, most importantly our people, is an absolute and inevitable formula for disaster,” said Rep. Lepore-Hagan. “As we've seen time, and time and time again, the trickle-down policies favored by the Republicans don't deliver prosperity, they deliver broken promises, disappointment and despair.”

Although Republicans claimed the bill included $170.6 million for opioid funding, the structural imbalance of the budget makes it nearly impossible to guarantee the money is real. Members from both sides of the aisle also said that what amounts to money for only two treatment beds per county is not enough for local communities.

“According to the statewide coroner’s association, Ohio is on track to experience six thousand opioid-related deaths this year. Just in the first weekend this April, eight people died from opioid overdoses in Trumbull County alone,” said Rep. Michael J. O’Brien (D-Warren), who offered a floor amendment to tap Rainy Day funds for adult and child protective services, local boards of health and other service providers grappling with the impacts of the opioid crisis. “Unfortunately, the funds allocated in this unbalanced budget are too little, too late. We need to do more to confront this crisis affecting so many families across the state.”

After budget projections showed the House had to cut $800 million from the initial budget numbers due to lower-than-expected revenues, the final version of the bill – approved largely along party lines today – fell over $400 million short of being balanced by that standard. Not only are state finances off balance, but Ohio’s job growth has trailed the national average for 51 consecutive months, Ohio families bring home thousands of dollars less than the average household in America, and close to 30 percent of Ohio jobs are low wage, paying less than poverty wages.

Democratic lawmakers offered several amendments on the House floor, including a proposal to create a study committee to ensure the state budget is structurally balanced and stable.

“I am very concerned and deeply disappointed by the fact that the budget was passed out of the House today without a provision to provide financial relief to local communities that have suffered from significant state cuts,” said Holmes. “I believe the failure to utilize the budget stabilization fund in the fight against the opioid epidemic presents philosophical, ideological, and even moral questions as to the sincerity with which we face this problem. The budget fails to treat the opioid crisis as the life-or-death emergency that it is for thousands of Ohioans, or prioritize it as such.”

House Bill 49 now goes to the Ohio Senate for additional scrutiny. The Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Kasich must approve a balanced budget by June 30 to avoid government shutdown.  

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