DeWine budget: Balanced, no new taxes, focused on recovery

COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine’s $75 billion two year budget plan unveiled Monday includes a one-time boost of $1 billion designed to help the state pull out of the pandemic-induced economic slump.

The recovery proposal spends $460 million on small business relief, $450 million on infrastructure projects in Ohio communities and $50 million on a marketing campaign to promote the state as a good place to live and work.

At a briefing Monday DeWine said his hope is that with the right investment of state tax dollars the state’s economy will improve.

“We’re not out of the pandemic yet. We don’t know exactly what the future is going to bring. So this additional money will get more people working as we move forward,” DeWine said.

Overall, the budget, according to DeWine, is balanced and focused on the future without dipping into the state Rainy Day Fund. There are no major tax increases, although license tag fees will increase under the plan to produce additional funds for the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Ohio Lt. Gov Jon Husted described the budget document as reflecting “a year of recovery in terms of health and the economy.”

The additional $1 billion will be funded by previous cuts in state spending, and a one-time increase in federal funding, mostly for Medicaid. Primary and secondary education and state supported colleges and universities will receive slight increases over the next two years.

DeWine’s biggest challenge remains dealing with the coronavirus and getting the state moving towards a more open pre-pandemic economy now that the vaccine is becoming more available. Availability of the vaccine, however, has been frustratingly limited for many people who want it.

“As we are able to vaccinate more and more people, more and more will candidly feel freer to go out into the economy, go to a restaurant, go to a bar, go to a retail store that’s going to be a gradual thing as more and more people are vaccinated,” DeWine said.

Reaction to the budget plan ranged from heavy criticism from some Democrats to relief from business groups that there are no new taxes. Leadership of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus said the budget plan does not do enough to provide the coronavirus vaccine to communities that have been hit very hard by the virus.

“Black people make up nearly 20 percent of the COVID-19 hospitalizations, 12 percent of the deaths and yet less than five percent have been vaccinated. There’s something totally wrong with this deadly picture,” said Petee Talley, Vice-Chair, Ohio Legislative Black Caucus Foundation.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce praised the budget plan as a good step toward boosting the economy.

“The new ‘Investing in Ohio Initiative’ provides additional, needed resources to the industries that continue to really struggle, like our bars and restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues,” said Andrew Doehrel, Chamber President and CEO.

DeWine took some heat on social media for a comment he made in response to a reporter’s question about trying to attract more young people to live in the state. DeWine said Ohio is a “progressive state” that can attract young people looking for a good place to live and work.

Rep. Emilia Sykes, Ohio House Minority Leader, said on Twitter “Instead of spending $50 million for a PR campaign Republicans could stop passing extremist legislation that keeps women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and working families from realizing their American dream in Ohio.”

The proposal goes to the Ohio House for hearings. House members will likely make changes and pass their own spending plan, then send it to the State Senate. A final version of the budget must be passed by the end of June.