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Ohio lawmakers react to DeWine’s State of the State address

Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), House Democratic leader, with many of her Democratic caucus members in the Ohio Statehouse press briefing room.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), House Democratic leader, with many of her Democratic caucus members in the Ohio Statehouse press briefing room.

Ohio lawmakers in the House and Senate sounded off after Gov. Mike DeWine’s State of the State address in the Ohio House chamber Tuesday.

DeWine centered his speech around his budget proposal which will soon be introduced in the Ohio House as a piece of legislation that must pass the Ohio General Assembly.

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) did not talk to reporters after the speech, but issued a statement praising DeWine’s investment ideas and calling for a long-term approach to ensure sustainability.

"Good fiscal stewardship requires that we must look beyond a two-year budget cycle to ensure sustainability and solvency for the state of Ohio. It’s time for the People’s House to get to work,” Stephens wrote.

Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), who supported Stephens as speaker, will chair the Ohio House Finance Committee. Edwards agreed on a lot of DeWine’s plans, but said there’s still a goal of cutting taxes.

“We want tax relief for Ohioans. We always want a big tax cut. Now, how big that is, is a question, and also making sure we maintain the priorities of the governor and what the governor wants,” Edwards said.

Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) also offered his thoughts. Merrin is the chair of the Ohio House Republican Caucus, elected by a majority of Republicans after Stephens was elected speaker with fewer GOP votes than Merrin.

“We're here to be supportive of the governor and his plans and to reconcile, you know, our beliefs and represent our constituents and make sure that we have a good partnership with the governor. So, the legislature, we got a lot of good ideas, but we need the governor's help and the governor needs our help,” said Merrin.

The Ohio Senate expects the Ohio House to make several changes before sending the budget bill to its chamber in April.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he’s delighted with what he heard, especially on things related to children. He said those proposals will help with the birth rate, which has dropped slightly in the last 15 years.

“There's a lot of 70-year-old baby boomers sitting in restaurants wondering where the staff is. And the answer is they weren't born, for a lot of different reasons. So, we really need to encourage people to have children and change the policies that are preventing people or causing people to decide not to have children,” said Huffman.

Democrats were pleased about some of DeWine’s proposals, such as the elimination of the state sales tax on baby items.

“I will remind everyone that those are Democratic ideas. In fact, things that were introduced last year. So obviously, we are supportive of that. Does it go far enough? Absolutely not,” said Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), House Democratic leader.

Democratic lawmakers were skeptical about other proposals, such as the expansion of EdChoice vouchers – taxpayer-funded scholarships to private schools – while still fully-funding public schools.

They also pushed back against the idea of law enforcement reform and training without efforts to stop gun violence.

Russo said their concerns should not go ignored, since Democrats gave Stephens the edge as speaker over Merrin.

“What we have learned in the last couple of weeks is that you can get 50 votes with a combination of Republican and Democratic votes. And I think certainly there is some alignment in what the governor has proposed. And we'll see as we work through the House budget,” said Russo.

Democrats also talked about things DeWine did not mention, such as protecting voting rights, drawing new legislative and congressional district maps that are fair, providing access to Medicaid, and expanding broadband.