House, Senate Republicans applaud governor’s plans but eager for details
COLUMBUS, OH — JANUARY 31: Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) takes questions from the press following State of the State Address, Jan. 31, 2023, in the Warren G. Harding Briefing Room at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
Republican leadership in the Ohio House and Senate praised Gov. Mike DeWine’s ideas in their responses to his state of the state address. They cautioned, however, that they still need to see the details.
The governor’s asks
DeWine’s pitch leaned heavily into education, putting particular emphasis on literacy.
“It opens the door to good jobs,” DeWine argued, “but really, it opens the door to life.”
DeWine described how his new budget will direct the education department to develop plans to ensure all students have the “best opportunity to master the skill of reading.” EdChoice scholarships would expand to include families at 400% of the federal poverty line, too, which has been opposed by public education advocates. Later in their education, students would benefit from big investments in career tech centers under DeWine’s plans.
DeWine also proposed need-based aid to students attending community colleges or regional university campuses. The top 5% of high school students would get a new $5,000 annual scholarship if they attend an Ohio university as well.
The governor proposed a number of other initiatives that will impact Ohio families outside of school as well. Parents would see a tax break through a $2,500 deduction for each child and the elimination of sales tax on supplies like diapers.
DeWine wants to spend $2.5 billion around the state to get industrial and commercial sites ready for investment. He promised, by the time he’s done, “every single Ohio citizen will be within commuting distance of at least one of the sites.”
The response from House Republicans
House Speaker Jason Stephens left quickly and didn’t take questions from reporters. In a statement, Stephens applauded “the investment in the people of our great state.” He added the House looks forward to “reviewing” the governor’s plans “in more detail.”
“Good fiscal stewardship requires that we must look beyond a two-year budget cycle to ensure sustainability and solvency for the State of Ohio,” Stephens warned.
Just off the House floor, Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova Township, spoke with reporters to offer the perspective of the right wing of House Republicans. Merrin was more than happy to highlight the difference between he and Stephens.
“Well, I can’t speak for Jason Stephens, but I’m really excited to talk to the media,” Merrin said. “The House Republicans are alive and well.”
Merrin spoke positively about DeWine’s emphasis on literacy and called the proposal to expand EdChoice scholarships, “a good step in the right direction.” On the site development fund, he predicted it would generate attention and even excitement. “We want Intels in every corner of the state,” he said.
As for the nuts and bolts of the budget drafting process, Merrin seemed committed to negotiating on behalf of the Republican faction spurned in the speaker’s race. Merrin’s faction represents a majority of the party, but alone, they’re far short of the majority of the chamber.
“I’m gonna talk directly with Senate President Matt Huffman and the governor on their priorities and our priorities as the House Republicans,” Merrin insisted. As for whether he’s worried about the rift in the GOP empowering Democrats, “Oh, I absolutely am very concerned,” Merrin said.
The response from Senate Republicans
Like his House counterparts, Senate President Matt Huffman struck a tone of cautious optimism about the governor’s plans.
“One word, I’m delighted with what the governor talked about today,” Huffman said. “There are obviously many details that we have to work out.”
There’s a long way to go, he warned, and the Senate is third in line to make changes. But Huffman spoke favorably about the governor’s early childhood proposals.
“Whether it has to do with the sales tax, tax deductions, the supportive private placement adoptions, these are the practical things that really help people to have children,” Huffman argued.
On the proposed expansion of the EdChoice scholarship, he said “practically speaking” it’s the same as the universal vouchers envisioned in the controversial ‘backpack bill.’ Huffman contended those scholarships will actually save money because the dollars following a student are less than per pupil costs.
“Anybody can take a picture in time and say, well, this money is leaving and this money’s here, so it’s a loss, but over a period of time, this saves money for the state budget and it saves money for the taxpayer,” he argued.
Huffman also weighed in on the governor’s suggestion for a state version of the low-income housing tax credit. The Senate President’s biggest concern is that the money go toward getting people into homes rather that apartments.
Huffman and finance chair, Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, both insisted hostility between GOP factions in the House won’t change their approach to the budget process. Huffman himself didn’t rule out the possibility of negotiating with multiple factions.
“I’m not going to say I refuse to talk to any member of the House, except for the speaker,” Huffman said.
For his part, Dolan consigned any and all complications to the standard black box of legislative negotiations.
“The House will pass a budget, we will put our Senate stamp on it, and then we’ll get together in conference committee with the Senate the House and the governor, and we’ll work things out,” he said.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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