A First in Nearly a Decade, Ohio Legislature Overrides Its Governor

by | August 23, 2017

By Jim Provance

The Republican-controlled Senate completed the override of six of Gov. John Kasich's budget vetoes on Tuesday, the first successful overrides of an Ohio governor's veto in nine years.

Chief among them were provisions designed to clip the governor's power to use the quasi-legislative Ohio Controlling Board to draw down billions in federal funds, as he did in 2013 to expand Medicaid over the objections of many in his own party.

Another overridden provision requires legislative approval before optional populations may be added to the Medicaid rolls in the future.

"This is simply another attack at Medicaid expansion that would see this General Assembly refusing to grant coverage to any new groups should they become eligible," Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) said. "It appears that the majority wants sole power to decide who is worthy of coverage and who is not."

Senate President Larry Obhof (R., Medina), however, said the vetoes were about the General Assembly reasserting itself.

"The administrative state has taken on what were traditionally or should be responsibilities of the legislature, and we are starting to take some of those back," he said.

Still in place is Mr. Kasich's veto of a provision that would have frozen enrollment into the Medicaid expansion program. The Senate still could override the veto because the House did not take it up in July, saying it may consider the move at a later date once the uncertainty over the federal Affordable Care Act was resolved in Washington.

For all the GOP protests over the expansion, the budget includes the money to cover the state's share of the cost, currently 5 percent, although it requires the governor to now get controlling board approval to release the funds.

The Medicaid expansion is expected to cost $5.1 billion this year, $281.5 million of which is the state's responsibility.

The upper chamber left untouched five other veto overrides the House approved in early July, including a provision that would have forced the Kasich administration to seek federal approval to raise a fee on managed-care providers to help out counties and public transit authorities that depended on revenue from a now-defunct sales tax on such providers.

"The Senate deserves credit for saying no to efforts that would have risked the future sustainability of Ohio's health-care system in order to seek a 24 percent tax hike on health plans," Mr. Kasich said. "I also applaud the Senate for choosing a different path on additional counterproductive health-care provisions.

"I stand by my vetoes on other health-care items and am disappointed with today's actions on them, but I am committed to working to manage changes with the least possible disruption in order to continue providing taxpayers with value and needy Ohioans with quality care," he said.

The six overrides were the first for a governor since Dec. 7, 2006 when fellow Republicans overrode then-Gov. Bob Taft's veto of a bill negating gun ordinances in Toledo and other cities that were considered stricter than state or federal law.

In addition to Medicaid expansion, the chamber also opted not to challenge the governor's veto of a provision that would have required his administration to again seek federal approval to impose premium requirements on some Medicaid recipients. Talks with the administration continue on this one.

One Republican, Sen. John Eklund (R., Chardon), joined all nine Democrats in the chamber to oppose overriding Mr. Kasich's vetoes of three Medicaid-related provisions. The overrides carried, however, 23-10.

Also still intact for the governor is the authority to appoint members of the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission -- which could consider authorizing exploration in state parks and other public lands -- after Mr. Kasich vetoed a provision that would have taken away that authority and given it to the the General Assembly. The House-passed an override of that provision, but the Senate opted not to take it up.

Lawmakers attempted to take that authority because Mr. Kasich, more than five years after the commission's creation, had yet to appoint a member. Mr. Obhof said he believes the governor will now make the appointments.

The General Assembly still has 16 months left in the current two-year session to consider other overrides.

After lawmakers sent him a $65 billion budget for the next two years, Mr. Kasich used his line-item veto pen 47 times, particularly targeting provisions that he saw as undermining the Medicaid expansion that, in partnership with Obamacare, extended health coverage to about 725,000 additional Ohioans.

Senate Republicans said they plan to continue to work with the governor to address the approaching $200 million-a-year revenue loss for counties and certain transit authorities that levy piggyback sales taxes. The federal government nixed a state gimmick in which it extended the sales tax to managed-care providers doing business with Medicaid in order to raise revenue that it, in turn, used to draw down even more federal matching dollars for Medicaid.

The Kasich administration instead created a 5.8 percent health insurance corporation fee on all managed-care providers, a move that takes care of the state's own $500 million-a-year problem, but does not provide a long-term replacement for the local entities. Unlike the sales tax, counties and transit authorities don't get a slice of the fee.

Lawmakers added a provision to the budget that would have required the administration to ask the federal government to increase that fee to 7.2 percent for six years to give counties and transit authorities more time to prepare for the day of reckoning.

But the Kasich administration fears such a request is unlikely to be approved and could endanger Ohio's existing compromise with the federal government. The current budget holds partial replacement funds for the local entities for two years, but assumes the revenue will disappear after that time.

(c)2017 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)