Auburn Township News
Published Monday, April 26, 2021
By Andrew J. Tobias
Before Ohio House Republicans put the final touches on their version of the state budget approved this week, they stripped out many of Gov. Mike DeWine’s top priorities.
It was just the latest example of the legislature’s lack of deference to DeWine, who’s ostensibly the leader of the state party and heading into what could be a tough re-election campaign year in 2022.
DeWine had included in his budget proposal a package of legislation that he designed to reduce gun violence. The changes would have toughened reporting requirements for the system used to run background checks on gun buyers and strengthened penalties for certain violent gun-related crimes. DeWine first introduced the proposals in 2019, following a deadly mass shooting in Dayton, but the legislature wouldn’t advance them. DeWine tried again through the state budget, and GOP lawmakers dumped the provisions last week.
They also removed a request from DeWine to spend $50 million on a tourism campaign promoting Ohio, particularly to people who may consider moving here from more expensive areas of the country. Promoting Ohio as a destination has been a pet project for DeWine since he took office in January 2019. DeWine plugged the provision during a news conference announcing his budget plan, during which he memorably referred to Ohio as a “progressive state.” But that proposal was killed, too.
In a slap at the governor’s coronavirus safety orders, the House budget bill also would force the DeWine administration to refund fines issued against bars and other restaurants for COVID-19 safety violations, and also would reinstate liquor licenses for bars that lost them for the same reason. It otherwise spends more than $74 billion over two years, funding state government operations and containing many noncontroversial provisions.
A major component is an overhaul of the state’s formula for funding K-12 schools, that when fully phased in, would increase the amount the state spends on schools by $1.8 billion, or 20%. But to pay for the new formula, lawmakers diverted a signature DeWine program, hundreds of millions in “wellness” dollars used to pay for support services for at-risk students.
Besides rejecting DeWine’s priorities in the operating budget, they also removed a DeWine-backed proposal from the state transportation budget in March that would have strengthened penalties for people convicted of distracted driving. And weeks later, they took the extraordinary step of overriding a DeWine veto of a bill that limited the governor’s power to issue health orders.
While DeWine didn’t ask for it, the operating budget bill includes a 2% income-tax cut that will cost the state $380 million over two years, while saving a taxpayer who makes a $60,000 salary only $29 a year.
As lawmakers finished their budget changes, which will allow them to say they voted to cut taxes and increase funding for schools, DeWine took credit for his fiscal management of the state.
“Our budget’s in a very good economic place, and that’s directly related to the tough fiscal decisions the governor had to make early in the pandemic,” said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the governor’s office.
Opposition to DeWine from within his party stems largely from the coronavirus-related restrictions he first imposed in March 2020. In May, then-House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, began pushing DeWine to begin lifting restrictions that he said disproportionately affected small businesses.
Republicans in general have tended to dismiss the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic or criticize the government response as overblown. At several campaign events for then-President Donald Trump last year, DeWine and his Lt. Gov. Jon Husted were criticized or booed when their names came up. DeWine has implored Ohioans to wear masks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, but many lawmakers have refused to wear them.
DeWine’s challenges with the legislature show no sign of easing up heading into the 2022 election campaign. From the right, former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, a possible Republican challenger, praised the legislature for taking DeWine’s gun reforms out.
“Thank you to the Ohio House for stripping the gun control request from Mike DeWine in the State Budget. The pressure is working to put Ohio First,” Renacci wrote on his Facebook page last week.
And from the political left, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, portrayed DeWine as weak for not standing up to his party and for failing to get his gun reforms through the legislature in a video her campaign produced to announce that she is running for governor.
“We could use a little more tough in Columbus. A little more strength,” Whaley, who was mayor during the August 2019 mass shooting, said in the video. “Because right now, corruption, criminal conduct and cronyism is just the way things are done. And our leaders are too weak to do something.”
House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, said the GOP-dominated General Assembly isn’t making a point of rebuking the governor.
“The legislature is an independent branch of the government. The governor has ideas, the legislature has ideas. We’re not always going to agree on policy. We look at them independently, and that’s what we’re doing. It doesn’t mean there’s any kind of bad relationship with the governor at all,” he said.