Taxes fall, child care debated in Ohio Senate budget plan

Ohio
Ohio Statehouse generic

Ohio Statehouse

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohioans would receive an across-the-board personal income tax cut of 5%, charter schools would be paid directly by the state — not individual districts — for the first time, and eligibility for low-income Ohioans seeking publicly funded day care would be expanded, under the Senate version of the state budget nearing completion this week.

The plan by the GOP-dominated Senate would also increase funding for schools, though the move has drawn criticism because it ignored the bipartisan plan approved by the House after more than two years of work.

The budget plan was before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, which tentatively planned last-minute updates to the proposal and a committee vote. The full Senate was expected to vote on the measure as soon as this week. House and Senate lawmakers must then reconcile differences between the two versions of the approximately $75 billion plan by month’s end.

The tax cut, worth $874 million, is an economic stimulus by “letting people who are working keep more money,” Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, said last week.

Public advocacy groups criticized the tax cut this week, saying it would only benefit the wealthiest Ohioans, but even at that, people earning above $500,000 annually would receive just a $1,712 cut.

“Pay for some of the jobs hardest hit by the pandemic, such as waiters and waitresses, is so low that they will get little or nothing from the proposed cut,” said Zach Schiller, a research director for Policy Matters Ohio.

To help increase access to day care, the Senate plan raises the eligibility level for poor families from those making 130% of the federal poverty level to 142%. The Senate measure also increases spending on publicly funded day care by $20 million over two years.

But the plan also eliminates the requirement that day cares achieve a quality of care rating to be listed in the state system. Huffman says the mandate is decreasing the number of day cares eligible for public funding. Child care advocates dispute that and say the change will hurt the quality of care available for Ohioans who need the publicly funded option.

The Senate plan also restores $22 million in funding to Ohio’s public libraries, and boosts funding for schools over the House plan by $223 million over two years.

In addition, for the first time the state would fund state charter schools and schools enrolling student through the Ohio voucher program directly rather than districts having to transfer money to those schools, under the proposal.

The Senate plan assumes a $6,110 annual base cost per student, with the House plan providing more but with the increase taking effect over several years. Unlike the House proposal, the Senate plan does not cover the real costs of public education, Scott DiMauro, Ohio Education Association president, said after the Senate proposal’s introduction.

The Senate measure also eliminates about $200 million meant to pay for grants expanding broadband service. Huffman said the use of the money needs to be more developed.

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