Kasich’s budget rouses Ohio party chairmen to debate

By Ann Sanner
Associated Press

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Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks to a crowd at Early Express Services in Dayton Thursday about his budget and tax plans. In the backgorund are Early Express president Cindy Woodward and Larry Dosser, president and CEO of MLPC. (AP Photo/Dayton Daily News, Jim Witmer)

COLUMBUS: The state’s Republican Party chairman took aim Thursday at Democrats for criticizing the GOP governor’s proposed budget, while the Democratic party chairman accused him of “rhetorical gymnastics.”

The brouhaha over the two-year state spending blueprint began at a GOP news conference announcing a new website aimed at countering Democratic attacks on the budget and highlighting certain opposing votes on policies.

But GOP Chairman Bob Bennett, when asked about Gov. John Kasich’s budget, told reporters that the state party is neither endorsing nor opposing it. He said, though, he liked its overall thrust.

“I think it’s good for Ohioans,” he said. “It will create jobs. It will continue to create jobs.”

He declined, however, to take a position on specific pieces of the $63.1 billion proposal, saying he wanted to let the legislature debate them.

Bennett’s spokesman later said the state party can’t formally endorse the plan without approval from party leaders, but the chairman is supportive of the budget.

The state’s Democratic Party chairman, Chris Redfern, seized on Bennett’s comments, noting apparent confusion between the words “endorse” and “support.”

“You’re either with the guy or against the guy,” Redfern said.

Redfern said he was “unequivocally” opposed to the spending plan and would urge his colleagues not to back it.

Kasich’s budget incorporates a significant rewrite of Ohio’s tax code that delivers $1.4 billion in tax cuts over three years.

It would reduce the tax rate on virtually all small businesses by 50 percent, cut the income tax rate statewide by 20 percent over three years and lower the sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5 percent.

The revisions also would impose sales taxes on professional services — lawyers, lobbyists, accountants and many others — in a move sure to set off a policy fight at the Statehouse, where Republicans control both chambers.

Bennett wouldn’t say where the Republican Party stood on the sales tax provisions, saying he would leave it to lawmakers to review and hear testimony.

“I’m not going to defend anything that’s going to be before the legislature as far as taxes are concerned,” Bennett said.

But, he added, he believed every Ohio resident would benefit from the tax cuts.

The governor also has opted to support expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law, providing health care coverage to potentially 366,000 Ohio residents.

Kasich has said he still opposes the health insurance mandate aspect of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The decision to expand the federal-state program sets up a potential fight among the governor and Republican lawmakers who are strongly against the federal law.

Bennett declined to say where he stood on it.

Some Democrats, including House Democratic Leader Armond Budish, have praised the governor’s move to expand Medicaid.

Redfern, also a state lawmaker, backs the idea and said he “absolutely will endorse” it. He said he expects his Democratic colleagues to try to amend the budget to hold a separate vote on broadening Medicaid coverage.

“Politics is an interesting business to be in,” Redfern told reporters. “And to see the rhetorical gymnastics that we’ve encountered this morning gives even me pause.”

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