Week in Review > Week In Review 8-7-23Posted by Paul Imhoff on August 07th, 2023
IT’S IN THE FY24-25 BUDGET
Editor’s Note: Articles summarized in this section have all been published as part of the Hannah Report’s series focusing on specific provisions included in the nearly 7,000 page FY24-25 budget, HB33 (Edwards).
Gov. Mike DeWine got his wish in the budget for a new cabinet agency focused on the wellbeing, education and development of the youngest Ohioans, and now administration officials are working to transfer relevant programs to the new Department of Children and Youth (DCY). DCY was officially created upon the signing of the biennial budget bill, HB33 (Edwards), but the law gives until Jan. 1, 2025 to officially transfer relevant programs from state agencies overseeing health, mental health and addiction, developmental disabilities, job and family services, Medicaid, education and economic development. DCY will take over responsibility sooner when it comes to duties assumed from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) related to the Ohio Family and Children First Cabinet Council, Children’s Trust Fund Board and Ohio Commission on Fatherhood, which move to DCY 90 days after HB33’s signing. According to the governor’s office, DeWine has appointed a transition team for DCY.
The state will spend $24 million creating new “intellectual diversity” centers at five public universities after lawmakers included legislation in the FY24-25 state operating budget that is meant to combat “leftist bias” in higher education. The final version of the budget included SB117 (Cirino-McColley), a priority bill for Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), chair of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee. HB33 establishes the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture and Society at Ohio State University (OSU); the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at the University of Toledo (UT); and centers similar to the Salmon P. Chase Center at the University of Cincinnati (UC), Miami University, and Cleveland State University (CSU). The bill establishes each of these centers as an “independent academic unit” within its university, and it provides funding for the universities to support the new centers. HB33 appropriates $5 million in each fiscal year to Ohio State; $1 million in each fiscal year to UT; and $2 million in both fiscal years to each of the other three schools, UC, Miami, and Cleveland State, for their centers.
While the final version of HB33 did not include language that would have curtailed increases in Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) for farmland, lawmakers are expected to study the issue as part of the newly-created Joint Committee on Property Tax Review and Reform. The budget requires the committee to submit a report to the General Assembly by Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2024 making recommendations on reforms to property tax law.
Ohio’s annual back-to-school sales tax holiday kicks off Friday, Aug. 4 but will be replaced next year and potentially in future years by a broader sales tax holiday created in the recent biennial budget. Under HB33, this back-to-school sales tax holiday will be replaced by an expanded sales tax holiday for items priced at $500 or less starting in 2024 in any year in which at least $60 million in surplus revenue is available after the Rainy Day Fund target is met. This use of surplus revenue replaces the Income Tax Reduction Fund, a disused mechanism for sending surplus revenue back to taxpayers via income tax cuts. However, the school-focused holiday will remain in law as a backup plan for when state finances won’t support the broader holiday.
A newly-released study of Ohio’s largest rivers will help determine where the DeWine administration will utilize the approximately $46.6 million in new H2Ohio Rivers Initiative funding provided in HB33, state leaders announced Tuesday. During a press conference beside the Scioto River in downtown Columbus, Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) Director Anne Vogel and Ohio EPA senior scientist Bob Miltner said the first-of-its-kind, comprehensive study conducted from 2020 to 2021 shows significant improvements in water quality over the last several decades. According to the study, 86 percent of the state’s large rivers — with “large” meaning 500 square miles or larger — are in “good to excellent” condition. In the 1980s, they said, only 18 percent of rivers met expectations for water quality.
Lawmakers addressed the cost of putting on a special election on Aug. 8 for Issue 1 through the FY24-25 budget after legislation that included an earmark for the election failed to clear the Ohio House. The appropriation was added by the Senate later in the budget process, requiring the Board of Election Reimbursement and Education Fund to be used to pay the costs associated with conducting the special election. A memo from Secretary of State Frank LaRose to county boards of elections after the budget was passed said lawmakers had authorized $16 million in up-front funds to pay for the election, with an additional $4 million in reimbursable funds available as needed. That is supported by a cash transfer from the FY23 General Revenue Fund (GRF) ending balance. Any unused funds must be returned to the GRF by the end of the calendar year.
The $22.5 million provided in HB33 for the Western & Southern Open will help ensure the professional tennis tournament remains in Ohio, Rep. Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) told Hannah News. “It is a huge economic engine for Southwest Ohio. It brings in about $80 million of economic activity every year. So it’s like the Taylor Swift concert, but we can count on it every year,” Mathews said in an interview. He said the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) has authorized the Western & Southern Open to expand to a two-week tournament in 2026. The funding in the budget will help the tennis facility expand to host the larger tournament, Mathews said, noting it would also provide year-round programming for local tennis teams, pickleball, concerts and other events.
Ohioans face stricter oil and gas laws after the General Assembly joined the governor in expanding their enforcement to “any person” violating the state’s regulatory authority. Not only production and brine injection wells, as under previous law, but now “stratigraphic” wells also have been brought under the insurance, bonding and setback requirements of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
Counties and townships also must find another way to fund road repairs and other infrastructure needs after budget bill HB33’s final language stripped House redistribution of brine injection fees from horizontal “fracking” to local governments and generally blocked the raid on Ohio’s Oil and Gas Well Fund.
Kara Wente, director of the Office of Children’s Initiatives for Gov. Mike DeWine and a member of the Department of Children and Youth (DCY) transition team, gave one of a series of stakeholder presentations Thursday to the Home Visiting Consortium, a panel established in law to ensure quality in home visiting programs. Such programs are among those being transferred to DCY from the Ohio Department of Health and numerous other agencies in order to unify services for children birth to age 5 under a single agency. Wente shared three draft goals that will drive the focus of agency efforts on maternal and infant health, academic readiness and child welfare. She said earlier feedback sessions had led the transition team to reframe them from a negative perspective (“reduce infant mortality”) to a more positive, proactive perspective (“help more children thrive and reach their first birthday”). Similarly, “reduce learning gaps” became “ensure continuity of care across the spectrum of ages, stages and services to help children and youth succeed,” while “reduce involvement with child welfare” became “help provider families with needed resources and supports proactively, before a crisis within the family occurs.”
Battelle and the Ohio STEM Learning Network announced that applications are now open for a new round of funding for the 2023-2024 school year. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, Sept. 5. The goal of the Ohio STEM Learning Network STEM Classroom Grant is to foster the creation of new, sustainable STEM education programming in classrooms by investing directly in K-12 teachers and administrators. With funding from Battelle, more than 300 projects have involved over 100,000 Ohio students since the program began in 2021. The one-time grants total either $2,500 or $5,000.
A teachers union leader, a former state superintendent and the head of Ohio’s largest school district discussed Wednesday their outlook for the new Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) and other education issues at the Columbus Metropolitan Club. Jackie Walker, executive director of SkillsUSA Ohio, moderated the panel that included former state Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro and Columbus City Schools Superintendent Angela Chapman. Walker led off by asking the panelists what they wanted to happen under DEW, a restructured Ohio Department of Education that will now be led by a cabinet director appointed by the governor. The State Board of Education and state superintendent, who previously had control of the agency, will retain only a subset of their duties, mostly focused on teacher licensure and discipline. Statehouse Republicans included the restructuring plan in the new budget bill, HB33 (Edwards). Zelman said the quest for gubernatorial control goes back decades and has been pursued in multiple states, some with success, some blocked by litigation.
A magistrate this week declined to issue an injunction to reinstate ousted State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) Board of Trustees member Wade Steen. Gov. Mike DeWine replaced Steen earlier this year after Steen refused a request to resign, expressing a concern about his attendance records at meetings. DeWine appointed investor G. Brent Bishop in his place. Steen, an investment expert and former county fiscal official, sued DeWine and STRS in June in the 10th District Court of Appeals, arguing that he did not serve at the pleasure of the governor but rather had a fixed term lasting through September 2024.
Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) founder William Lager is asking a judge to block subpoenas the state issued for his financial information, saying they violate court rules and come long after discovery in his case closed. In mid-July, the state issued subpoenas to Huntington National Bank, Kemba Financial Credit Union, Heartland Bank and Provident Back, seeking by this week the production of bank records going back 23 years, according to a memo filed by Lager’s attorneys. They note that discovery in the case ended three years ago, and that the court had previously blocked a deposition the state attempted to take after a discovery deadline.
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