Tuesday, March 20, 2007

 

Ready, Set, Wait

Well today was the day that everyone around and inside capital square have been waiting for since the State of State address last Wednesday and the release of the Governor’s budget last Thursday. It was day that the actual legislation, H.B. 119 (over 2,000 pages long!), was released and it was the day that Pari Sabety, Director of the Office of Budget and Management delivered opening testimony on the budget. In sort of strange twist (at least to me), Committee Chairman Matthew Dolan (R-Chardon) announced that Sabety wouldn’t be answering questions today, but instead would be coming back next week to answer questions. He also indicated that the Finance Committee wouldn’t be meeting on Wednesday and that Thursday would be set aside for the various subcommittees to begin their hearings.

Sabety’s testimony was strong and straightforward. She constantly referred back to Governor Ted Strickland’s “Turn Around Ohio” agenda and referred to the Governor’s budget at one point as “beginning our state’s journey back to prosperity.” She asserted that the budget was balanced, and that it represented the slowest growth budget in 42 years. She then walked through each of the Governor’s major initiatives and outlined a series of new spending or modified spending proposals.

Sabety was followed by Chuck Phillips of the Ohio Legislative Services Commission who delivered fairly testimony related to their general revenue fund projections, Medicaid caseload numbers and TANF caseload projections. I picked up two things from his testimony. One was that they are predicting slight lower revenues than the administration. If the legislature decides to use lower revenue numbers then the administration projected the legislature will have to reduce spending by a corresponding amount to keep the budget balanced. The second thing that caught my attention was their projection that the number of people on Medicaid would actually decline from 2007 to 2009 (despite the significant coverage expansions contained in the Governor’s budget) and that a major reason for the declines are the new Medicaid citizenship verification rules that were included in the Deficit Reduction Act passed by Congress last year. This is an issue that needs to be addressed at both the state and national level.

I have an overall sense that legislators of both parties are still getting adjusted to their new roles. The Republican members are adjusting to having less access to information than they did under the previous Republican administration and while the Democratic members have more access to information, they have to adjust from their past role as critic. There are also 5 freshmen members on the committee (I don’t count House returnees like Barbara Boyd or Jay Hottinger as freshmen) for whom this is all new. I was glad to see that Mark Niquette of the Columbus Dispatch set the record straight on whether the Strickland administration was taking longer than previous new Governors to introduce an actual budget bill. The verdict -- Strickland's actual budget bill was available sooner then the first Taft, Voinovich, and Celeste budgets were available.

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