Ohio House OKs $64M budget containing Medicaid controls

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio House approved a nearly $64 billion, two-year operating budget Tuesday that would impose new controls on Medicaid expansion money and invest $170 million in tackling the state’s No. 1 ranking in opioid deaths.

The bill cleared the Republican-controlled chamber 58-36 after three hours of debate.

House Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn, of Dayton, raised his party’s objections to investment priorities that he said would leave the middle class behind. He said the state’s economy is stalling because recent state budgets have pushed an increasing share of the financial burden to local communities, individuals and working families.

“Now we’re kind of seeing the fruits of that come to bear,” he said. “We did all that for the promise that we would have this great economy, this thriving economy. So what you have to ask yourself is thriving for who?”

House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith, a Bidwell Republican, said the spending blueprint does the best it can with the state’s limited resources — and notably includes new resources earmarked for identifying and treating addiction to heroin and opioid painkillers, expanding recovery options and helping people re-establish their lives through job and housing help.

Smith’s budget-writing committee learned during its deliberations that state revenue was expected to lag projections by $800 million over the two-year plan.

“We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we’re trying to be responsible with what we have,” Smith said.

The House removed a package of tax changes proposed by Republican Gov. John Kasich — which included increases in sales, tobacco, alcohol and other taxes to help fund a 17 percent income-tax cut.

The House bill calls for making up about $157 million in revenue by other means, including by increasing the percentage of state lottery proceeds earmarked for education and adding the Lucky One game. It also calls for increasing the state share of revenue from lottery-run video slots machines and allowing video poker at racinos.

The House also added what leaders called “guardrails” to the ability of Kasich’s Medicaid Department to spend dollars Ohio gets for a Medicaid expansion allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. The plan requires the state controlling board to release the funds every six months and specifies conditions that must be met for the money to flow.

The measure heads next to the Ohio Senate.