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Ohio budget panel votes for Medicaid freeze

House, Senate still must approve

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COLUMBUS — Republicans generally were not happy when Gov. John Kasich did a run around them four years ago to use a budgetary panel to draw down billions in federal funds to partner with Obamacare to expand Medicaid.

While they quietly appropriated the money to keep the program running in the current two-year budget that will expire Friday, they’re not being quiet anymore.

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, joined by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday.

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A House-Senate budget conference committee on Tuesday voted 4-2 along party lines to keep a Senate-passed provision requiring the state to ask for federal approval to freeze enrollment in the program beginning on July 1, 2018.

That provision might force Mr. Kasich to again thwart his fellow Republicans by exercising his line-item veto authority.

Those already in the program would continue to receive coverage. But after that date, the program could not accept new enrollees and would not allow those who were previously on the program but dropped off because of a short-term change in their eligibility status to re-enroll.

The fate of the expansion was one of hundreds of points of contention as the six-member committee worked late into the night Tuesday to resolve differences between the House and Senate visions for the next two-year budget.

The Medicaid expansion, a partnership with the federal Affordable Care Act, provides health coverage for some 725,000 Ohioans earning as much as 38 percent above the federal poverty level. Mr. Kasich has credited the program for extending the reach of opiate addiction and mental health treatment beyond what Ohio could do alone.

The panel provided exceptions to the freeze for the mentally ill and drug-addicted people.

Both chambers plan to vote on the final budget product on Wednesday. Mr. Kasich will not have much time to review what lawmakers send him and decide by Friday where to use his veto authority.

The conference committee, consisting of four Republicans and two Democrats, delayed until late in the evening its efforts to rework what was a $65 billion, two-year general fund budget when it left the Senate.

The committee rejected another attempt by Democrats to raise additional state revenue by repealing an income tax exemption on the first $250,000 earned by small businesses.

“A budget that’s built on broken economic assumptions and ideology, instead of fact and reality, isn’t a real budget at all. It’s fake,” said state Rep. Jack Cera (D., Bellaire).

“We had a real opportunity to chart a course for our future — one that rebalanced taxes for families and delivered real results on good-paying jobs,” he said. “It is disappointing that, after six years of trying the same thing with no results, my colleagues aren’t able to swallow their pride and try a new approach to create good-paying jobs and economic growth.”

State Sen. Scott Oelslager (R., Canton) characterized the move as an attempt to raise taxes by $2.2 billion over the next two years.

“The key in the state of Ohio is to create a climate to make business people feel good about the state of Ohio so they will employ people and help the state succeed,” he said.

The chamber largely stuck with the Senate’s plan to fund K-12 education, which is not as generous as the House's plan but leaves fewer school districts seeing reductions in their basic state aid.

In the end, the proposed plan is expected to cut more than $1 billion from the more optimistic proposal that Mr. Kasich sent lawmakers at the end of January.

Tax collections, particularly personal income and non-auto sales taxes, have failed to keep pace with projections in the current fiscal year.

Part of the dispute was how to deal with these revenue shortfalls by raiding a variety of funds for cash.

The committee sided with the Senate in striking a House-passed provision that would have given sole authority to enforce lead abatement to the state Department of Health and would have prohibited cities like Toledo from enforcing their own ordinances.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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