Feisty budget fight brewing

Heads of Ohio Republican and Democratic parties signal fight over Gov. Kasich’s proposed budget

Marc Kovac Dix Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS — The heads of the Ohio Republican and Democratic parties came out swinging Thursday to start what will likely be a months-long, knock-down, drag-out fight over GOP Gov. John Kasich’s biennial budget proposal and his hopes for reelection in 2014.

Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett swung first, at a late morning press conference, where he called Democrats who have opposed Kasich’s policies “job killers,” and unveiled a new website (www.stopohiojobkillers.com) spotlighting at least one potential minority party challenger for statewide office.

“I know John Kasich well enough to know his motivation is creating jobs and opportunity for as many people as possible,” Bennett told reporters during a press conference at the party’s headquarters in downtown Columbus. “What happens to be right for Ohio and, much to the Democrats’ dismay, what is right is good politics as well. So for the Democrats to take the opposing political side, they must campaign against jobs.”

But Democratic Party Chairman and state Rep. Chris Redfern, speaking to reporters later in the day and standing near a digital clock counting down the minutes until the November gubernatorial election, slammed Kasich and Bennett, focusing many of his comments on the governor’s proposal to expand sales tax collections to services.

“After decades of slandering taxes, they’re in the uncomfortable political position to support John Kasich’s thousands of new sales taxes,” Redfern said, adding later, “Make no mistake: This budget shifts the tax burden in Ohio away from the super wealthy and Kasich’s political contributors directly on the shoulders more and more so of regular working class Ohioans.”

The dueling press conferences came days after Kasich unveiled a $63 billion-plus two-year spending plan that included changes to the way Ohio funds its public schools, an increase in eligibility for health care coverage for needy residents and a tax reform package that includes cuts to income and sales tax rates, a broadening of the latter to require payments on services and a hike on collections related to oil and gas produced via horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The House finance committee began its deliberations on the general operating budget, with final passage expected by late June. Many groups and a number of Statehouse Democrats have voiced their support for provisions that would expand Medicaid, but minority party members already are voicing concern about Kasich’s tax plan, which they say amounts to tax hike on lower- and middle-income residents.

Redfern said Thursday that Democratic lawmakers will attempt to split the Medicaid measures into a separate bill. Otherwise, the minority party is “adamantly” opposing the biennial budget as offered, including the altered sales tax setup.

“He gets you coming, he gets you going, literally speaking...,” Redfern said, speaking of the lengthy list of services that would be subject to state sales tax under the governor’s proposal. “He gets you in your funeral casket, he gets you when you’re born. ... When your lawyer is paying the fees for your foreclosure, he gets you with another tax.”

But Bennett called Democrats obstructionists who are opposing any policy proposals brought by the governor.

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