COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House is poised to further amend the biennial operating budget, with a midweek floor vote expected.
Just how seriously should you take the initial version that leaves the chamber in coming days?
That's a good question. Off the cuff, I'd say sorta seriously, though maybe not so seriously, if that's a wishy-washy enough response.
Just like Gov. John Kasich's executive budget proposal that dropped earlier in the year, the initial House version is subject to revision.
The Republican head of the Ohio Senate has already made it clear that some of what the other chamber had proposed in its first round of amendments last week isn't going to pass muster.
"I think that the Senate will significantly decrease the amount of money being spent in this budget," Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) told reporters. "We acknowledged about two weeks ago that there is an $800 million projected shortfall in this budget, and the draft that I've seen so far or the amendments that I've seen so far don't close that gap. They make some progress towards it, but they leave several hundred million dollars, depending on how you interpret the amendments, potentially more than that, open."
At the top of Senate Republicans' minds is completing the process with a balanced, sustainable budget -- and one that doesn't raise taxes.
Obhof wasn't sounding too keen on some of the changes offered by the House.
"They did some revenue enhancements that require substantial policy decisions to be made, including some of the gaming issues that I'm not sure that the Senate is there," he said.
On the a proposal to pump another $170 million-plus into programs to combat drug addiction Obhof said, "I think it's a little early to tell I think the real question for us is not how much money are we spending but whether or not we are finding solutions that we expect to work. Maybe those cost additional money, maybe they cost less. What matters most to our caucus is that we're saving lives."
He added that senators "are interested in making pretty substantial reforms (on drug addiction issue). Those may be linked to funding, they may not be. That remains to be seen. But I think there are improvements that we can make to the system that don't necessarily involve spending significantly more resources."
On school funding, Obhof offered, "I believe the governor's budget proposal included several hundred million dollars of additional funding but that a significant number, perhaps hundreds of school districts, were receiving less funding than they did last time What we're going to focus on is making sure that all districts get the resources that they need and instead of picking a number and going from there, I think we're going to work hard to make sure that most districts or as many districts as possible can get at least what they did before."
Also, keep in mind that current revenue forecasts likely will change come June, which will mean more or potentially less money to work with.
Where does all of that leave us?
With a budget that will be passed by the Ohio House in coming days and likely significantly altered by the Ohio Senate in coming weeks, with some sort of compromised version reached by the two chambers before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
"I do expect that there will be a lot of challenging decisions that need to be made ," Obhof said. "Again, the Senate is focused first and foremost on making sure that any budget that we pass will be balanced, that there won't be a gap between what we are projecting to spend and what we're actually projecting to come in. We'll do what we need to do to get there."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.