TROY — Lunch attendees received an update about a variety of state legislative issues from Senator Bill Beagle and freshman state representative Dr. Steve Huffman on Friday.
At the annual State of the State luncheon, the politicians spoke about the state’s bi-annual budget and the state’s efforts to reduce taxes.
“In the Ohio budget, we do three main things: we educate, we medicate and we incarcerate,” Senator Beagle quipped. “So between higher education and K-12 education, our Medicaid and health care systems support and our prisons, we spend 90 cents on the dollar towards those items.”
Senator Bill Beagle broke down the state’s two-year $71.2 billion budget, which continues Gov. John Kasich’s expansion of Medicaid, and income tax cuts which include tax relief provisions for small businesses.
Beagle noted the current budget has been reduced overall by $5 billion in the last eight years. This year, legislation has reduced Ohio’s income tax rate by 6 percent, saving taxpayers $1.3 billion in the next two years.
“So that’s more money in your pocket and your employees’ pockets, your co-workers’ pockets to do what you see fit,” Beagle said.
Beagle stated Ohio’s tax rate is the lowest it has been since 1982, and touted the state’s small business 75 percent tax break on its first $250,000 of income this fiscal year and a full 100 percent tax break in 2016 with a 3 percent flat tax following those income benchmarks.
Dr. Huffman said what he likes about the state’s budget is, “what was not in the budget.”
“What was not in the budget was raising taxes, no raising the sales tax,” he said. “There was a raise in the cigarette tax (35 cents), but I can swallow a small raise in the cigarette tax to decrease your personal income tax. I’m happier with what was not in the budget than what ended up in there.”
STATE OF EDUCATION
Both Senator Beagle and Rep. Dr. Huffman spent the majority of their time speaking about the state of Ohio’s education.
The budget includes $2.5 billion in 2015 and $2.6 billion in 2016 for higher education; $7.6 billion in 2015 and $7.9 billion in 2016 for K-12 education.
According to the Associated Press, the budget plan also spends $955 million more in basic state aid for K-12 schools than the last two-year period.
“We came up with a formula based on the last formula so it wasn’t too radically different,” Beagle said. “It does drive dollars to low wealth, or what we call low capacity schools, so there is a capacity measure where the state tries to estimate what your district is able to contribute to local education efforts. It doesn’t mean you are voting ‘yes’ on the levies, but you have the capacity to do that. So we are trying to drive more wealth to low-wealth, low-capacity, districts.”
Sen. Beagle said efforts were made to “smooth out” the funding formula for all districts.
“We have more schools than in the past that are obtaining the funding that the formula actually says they should get — and as a former financial analyst, that has a certain amount of appeal to me,” Beagle said.
Beagle said the state legislature has taken measures to reduce testing after years of negative feedback from districts and parents.
Dr. Huffman said the reduction of testing also is in response of removing the national Common Core.
“There’s a number of bills introduced in the fall to continue to look at tests,” Dr. Huffman said.
Dr. Huffman spoke about the House Bill 70, which allows the state to step in and run “failing” school districts by creating a CEO position and allowing mayors to appoint school board members.
“The House was criticized on what we did there, but basically we took the city of Youngstown schools in receivership. I’m all for local control but I’m also for those students,” Dr. Huffman said. “There was 10,000 students five years ago in Youngstown schools and now there’s 5,000. They are still getting paid $10,000 a year per student compared to $6,000 around the state.”
Dr. Huffman said the failing school district has failed 19 out of 21 years on state report card benchmarks.
“They were failing those students and the state of Ohio stepped in. There will be a CEO appointed to control those schools and get rid of people who aren’t performing and to improve that,” he said. “We have great schools in Miami County, but if we ever have any off them fail 10 straight years, I hope the state of Ohio steps in and fixes them for them, too.”
Beagle said the state is diverting away from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) testing model and changing providers of Ohio’s state tests and reducing the amount of time students are preparing and taking these mandatory tests.
“We are hearing you and we are trying to reduce the amount of time kids prepare for tests,” he said.
Dr. Huffman noted there are several legislative efforts to reform the charter school system.
Beagle noted the state of Ohio is boosting its efforts for early childhood education to reduce intervention later on in the student’s career. Budget line items include $170 million for early education, $200 million for preschool special education, and $5 million for early childhood mental health counselors for preschool children.
“Early childhood mental health counselors. It kind of surprised me that the need for mental prevention at such an early age — $5 million — which I think when you look at the state of 11 million, $5 million is not that much, but there you have it,” Beagle said.
It also boosts state funding for higher education to help offset a two-year tuition freeze at public universities. Colleges also must propose ways to reduce student costs by 5 percent.
“With two kids in college I’m beginning to appreciate more than I have in the past,” Beagle said, noting more funding by the state is helping offset costs for parents. “We’re trying to reverse that trend by putting more state money into our colleges, having them hold costs, so we as families are paying less or at least it’s not going up and that would be a fabulous first start.”
The state also funded a $100 million in a needs-based grant program called the “Ohio College Opportunity Grant.”
The politicians ended their time with the chamber group by taking questions from the audience.
A representative of Edison Community College thanked them for their continued support for community colleges and noted the college was a leader in the state to reduce its energy costs as part of the 5 percent reduction in costs challenge.
The State of the State event was sponsored by the county-wide chambers, consisting of Covington, Piqua, Tipp City and Troy,
Reach Melanie Yingst at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Troydailynews