Belated budget with 4% income tax cut heads to Ohio governor

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio would cut personal income taxes by 4%, raise the age for buying tobacco products to 21 and direct $550 million for educational wraparound services such as mental health counseling under the state budget that lawmakers belatedly sent to Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday, hours before their extended deadline.

The Republican governor can veto provisions of the two-year, $69 billion spending plan that he doesn't approve.

The measure , approved by votes of 29-1 in the Senate and 75-17 in the House, eliminates the income tax for people earning less than $21,750 and retains a business tax break but exempts lawyers and lobbyists from that. It also pushes back the 2020 primary election by a week to St. Patrick's Day despite objections from Democratic lawmakers.

Republican House Speaker Larry Householder said the budget helps better support Ohioans who aren't addicted to drugs but have been affected by the opioid epidemic — such as by boosting funding for foster care in response to increases in custody placements.

The Public Children Services Association of Ohio praised it as "the single biggest investment in child and family services ever made by the state."

Ohio had been operating under a 17-day temporary budget since lawmakers missed the original deadline for the first time since 2009.

"Sometimes to get a better quality product, it takes more time," Republican House Speaker Larry Householder said.

But the top Democrat in the House found no benefit in the legislative overtime.

"There were no wins in that delay," said Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes of Akron, who described the resulting budget as "not awful for the state of Ohio, but it certainly doesn't go as far as we would have liked it to go."

She urged DeWine to veto more than a dozen provisions, including the election date change, expansion of private-school scholarships, and funding for crisis pregnancy centers that abortion-rights advocates oppose.

Democratic lawmakers also complained the budget doesn't do enough to address concerns about how the state intervenes in poor-performing school districts. The budget blocks new so-called state takeovers for a year while the GOP-led Legislature and the Ohio Supreme Court consider the matter , but three districts still would operate under that structure.

"Sadly, the Legislature leaves the communities of Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland languishing under a failing law until they can figure out how to give districts struggling with high levels of poverty the support they need," Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro said in a statement from the teachers union.

Other education provisions in the budget alter high school graduation requirements, starting with the class of 2023, to allow for non-test alternatives toward getting a diploma. It also provides $125 million for private-school scholarships and fast-growing school districts whose funding has been capped.

The measure affects health care policy, too, changing how pharmacy benefits are administered for Medicaid users in an effort to boost transparency and control those costs. It would direct $100 million to pharmacies to compensate for low reimbursements and have the Department of Medicaid contract directly with one pharmacy benefit manager instead of involving multiple PBMs.

The measure also would:

— Allot $172 million over two years for DeWine's new "H2Ohio" water quality initiative.

— Add a tax on vaping products.

— Provide $20 million to help replace aging school buses.

— Slightly increase the percentages of state revenue that go to funds for local governments and public libraries.

— Direct money to address the problem of parents having to relinquish custody of children with extensive mental disabilities in order to receive state-funded care.

— Maintain tax credits for the motion picture industry, with additional focus on Ohio businesses.