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Ohio senators want additional income tax cuts, universal vouchers in GOP crafted budget plan

By AP | Jun 6, 2023

Senate Finance chair, Republican Sen. Matt Dolan, presents the Ohio Senate's GOP-crafted version of the state's $86 billion operating budget, Tuesday, June 6, 2023, at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. The proposal includes $1.5 billion in income tax cuts, a phased-in universal voucher program and hundreds of other changes that must be hashed out by June 30th. (AP Photo/Samantha Hendrickson)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- More income tax cuts and a phased-in universal voucher program are among the hundreds of changes in a Republican-crafted proposal announced Tuesday for Ohio's nearly $86 billion state budget.

The two-year funding proposal already cleared the GOP-led House in April with bipartisan support, but a raucous vote on the floor hinted that a split in the House's Republican supermajority is still alive and well and left questions about how they'll iron out a final product with the Senate.

And there will likely be lots to iron out. The Senate's latest budget proposal, about $2 billion smaller, made some significant changes and more could be on the way before a scheduled June 15 vote.

The largest revisions include removing $1 billion in earmarks for one-time spending, instead using $1 billion in leftover federal revenue and taxpayer money to create a One Time Community Investment Fund. It's meant to force lawmakers to prioritize one-time funding decisions and keep the budget document focused on policy, said Senate Finance Chair Matt Dolan, a Cleveland area Republican.

The proposal also would phase in a universal voucher program with higher scholarship amounts than the House or Republican Gov. Mike DeWine's versions of the budget have envisioned. Families at or below 450% of the federal poverty level, or around $135,000 for a family of four, could receive $6,300 for K-12 students and $8,400 in taxpayers' money for those in grades 9-12 to attend private schools.

Families making above 450% would receive scholarships on a sliding scale, with the amount decreasing as income increases. But all families, regardless of income, would be guaranteed to receive a scholarship of at least 10% of the current voucher amounts.

Other elements include a provision to shift oversight of K-12 education from the Ohio State Board of Education to an official appointed by the governor -- drastically changing who makes decisions on academic standards, curriculum and district ratings.

The Senate also would keep the House's proposal to continue implementing a fairer, more reliable school funding formula from the last two-year budget, while factoring in updated costs for teacher salaries, transportation and technology. That would be a win for legislative Democrats.

But the Senate would also eliminate some funding guarantees that exist outside the formula for some schools, such as public school districts being reimbursed by the state based on how many of their students attend charter and other private schools.

Ohioans could also see, according state senators, $1.5 billion in income tax deductions over the next two years -- $500 million more than the House's version. Part of the money would come from cutting the state's four income tax brackets to two. Those earning $26,500 or less would pay nothing in taxes and those earning up to $92,000 would pay 2.75%. Those above that income level would pay 3.5%.

Republican senators also want to extend Ohio's sales tax holiday, starting in August 2024, to two weeks, when purchases of tangible goods worth $500 or less would not be taxed.

Additionally, $15 million would be allotted to fund a Republican-backed August special election, where Ohio voters would decide whether to make it harder to pass constitutional amendments just ahead of possible November vote on an amendment that would enshrine abortion rights in the state.

Hundreds of other changes and their impact on Ohioans will be hashed out in the final weeks of the budget season that wraps up June 30.

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Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.