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Ohio budget director says to expect more revenue, less expenses

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(The Center Square) – An Ohio General Assembly conference committee began work Thursday morning to bring together a House and Senate budget divided on $2 billion in spending.

The conference committee must also work out compromises on private school vouchers, teacher pay, taxes, health care, sports gambling taxes and affordable housing.

“From education and workforce development to child care and health care, the House budget that passed in April moved Ohio forward,” said House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington. “We crafted a bipartisan budget that would put people first and improve the lives of Ohioans. The Senate’s version of the budget causes irreversible damage to the state as it takes away vital resources from our most vulnerable communities.”

Kimberly Murnieks, director of the state Office of Budget and Management, testified before the committee Thursday that state revenues are expected to be 1.4% higher than previously forecasted for fiscal year 2023 and up another $513 million for 2024. Estimates remain the same for 2025.

Murnieks also predicted modest to slow growth over the two years in the state’s major tax sources – non-auto sales tax, auto sales tax, commercial activity tax and personal income tax.

“Additionally, with slowing economic growth and moderating consumer spending on the horizon, it is more important now than ever to maintain a structurally balanced budget. I appreciate the focus from both chambers on maintaining this balance,” Murnieks said.

Murnieks also predicted more than a $1 billion decrease in spending over the next two years.

The House on Wednesday rejected a chance to concur with the Senate version by a 71-23 vote, forcing the budget to a conference committee. There is a June 30 deadline for the General Assembly to pass and Gov. Mike DeWine to sign the fiscal document.

According to the Legislative Service Commission, the Senate’s version contains $180 million more in spending on school vouchers than the House and provides $541 million less funding for public schools. The commission has said a full school voucher program in the state would cost taxpayers $1 billion.

In the Senate’s plan, private schools will receive a taxpayer-paid voucher worth $6,135 for each K-8 child and $8,407 for each high school student.

A family at 450% of the poverty level is eligible for a full private school voucher. A family at 550% of the poverty level would get half a voucher, and a family at 650% of the poverty level would get 25% of a voucher.

Every student in the state would be guaranteed at least a 10% voucher.

The Senate also removed a plan to increase teacher starting salary from $30,000 to $40,000, removed Medicaid expansion for children and pregnant women at less than 300% of the poverty level and removed Medicaid continuous enrollment for children from birth to age 3.

The Senate also included an increase in the state’s sports betting tax from 10% to 20%, which the Legislative Budget Office said could generate up to $135 million more tax dollars, according to BetOhio.

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