Money for schools, tax changes in Ohio's $71.2 billion budget clears Legislature

EnergyAssociated Press

Smokers would see a 35-cent hike on a pack of cigarettes, all residents would see an state income tax cut and public colleges would freeze tuition rates for two years under a finalized $71.2 billion spending blueprint that cleared the Ohio Legislature on Friday.

The Republican-dominated Ohio House voted 61-32 to send the measure to the governor.

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Republican Gov. John Kasich planned to discuss the spending plan with legislative leaders at a news conference later Friday.

GOP lawmakers say the bill puts more money in residents' pockets and increases investments in education. Democrats have criticized the plan as failing to ensure prosperity for all Ohioans.

The budget plan spends $955 million more in basic state aid for K-12 schools than the last two-year period, with no district getting less than what it got this year. It also boosts state funding for higher education to help offset the tuition freeze. Universities would be prohibited from requiring students to live in on-campus housing if they reside within 25 miles of the school. Institutions also must propose ways to reduce student costs by 5 percent.

The measure would provide a 6.3 percent state income tax cut beginning in tax year 2015 as a part of a $1.85 billion net tax reduction. That would lower the top rate to just below 5 percent. And it would boost the cigarette tax from $1.25 to $1.60 a pack.

The proposal also sets aside money for police training, eliminates special elections in February and prohibits independent health care and child-care workers under contract with the state from unionizing.

Tuesday is the deadline for Kasich to sign the bill into law. He can use his line-item veto pen on the measure.