Ohio House panel to make final changes as decision time nears on $71.5 billion, 2-year budget

Proposals to kill Ohio's tax on commercial activity, fund absentee-ballot mailings and allow counties to privatize jails are among dozens of revisions that a legislative panel considered Monday as it prepared to put finishing touches on the two-year, $71.5 billion state operating budget.

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The powerful Ohio House Finance Committee was scheduled to vote Monday on the measure and had wrapped up hearings Friday. Chairman Rep. Ryan Smith said final changes and a committee vote were likely, though a backup hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday. The full House is expected to take up the measure Wednesday.

The House has stripped major elements of Republican Gov. John Kasich's initial proposal from the bill, including a package of tax changes that included increases on certain business and sales taxes, cigarettes and oil and gas drilling that were used to fund an income tax reduction. The House plan trims $270 million of Kasich's proposed $696 million tax cut from the budget cycle that begins July 1.

House Republicans were generally resistant to Kasich's plans to increase taxes on businesses. They are proposing that a commission to study the issue. Rep. John Becker, a Clermont County Republican, even proposed phasing out Ohio's divisive commercial activity tax altogether over the next two years to shrink rising state spending.

Democrats in the GOP-controlled chamber have proposed hundreds of amendments seeking tax changes they have said would better serve all income brackets, more money for schools and restoration of certain Medicaid benefits that Republicans trimmed.

The House made adjustments to Kasich's school-funding formula that deliver an additional $179 million into the foundation formula and increase state aid to schools by $850 million.

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School districts hit by a proposed $79 million House cut to Kasich's education budget have decried a proposal of the governor's retained by the House that also reduces their share of tangible personal property tax collections from 35 percent to 20 percent and decreases local governments' share from 15 percent to 5 percent. The proposal allows the state to retain 75 percent of the tax, up from 50 percent.

The House budget drew praise from family members and staff at two state-run developmental centers that had been slated for closure under Kasich's plan. Representatives propose setting up a commission to study the closures, a move family members and staff believe could result in the facilities housing nearly 180 individuals and employing roughly 400 to stay open.

Final revisions to the bill coming Monday will include money to mail absentee ballot applications to voters statewide ahead of next year's presidential election, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger confirmed last week.

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted had asked state lawmakers for $1.25 million to send the mailings in 2016. His request came after the GOP-controlled General Assembly passed a law tightening control over such mailings in the swing state.

"After further discussion with Secretary Husted and my colleagues in the House, language appropriating funding for the cost of mailing out absentee ballot applications for Ohio voters will be included in the omnibus amendment to the state budget," Rosenberger said in a written statement.