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Ohio's $62B, 2-year state budget clears Senate

Julie Carr Smyth, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A state budget that cuts personal income taxes, revamps Ohio's school-funding system and adds new abortion restrictions cleared the Ohio Senate on Thursday over the fierce objections of some Democrats.

The Republican-led chamber approved the $62 billion, two-year spending blueprint in a 21-11 vote, with all Democrats and Republican Sen. Kris Jordan voting no. An Ohio House vote was planned as Gov. John Kasich faced a Sunday deadline to sign the bill.

Republican Senate President Keith Faber was among those who praised the legislation during floor debate, highlighting added spending on public schools and government health care programs.

Sen. Bill Coley, a West Chester Republican, said the bill delivers $2.7 billion in tax cuts over three years that will be good for the state's economy and for Ohioans of all income levels.

"If you truly care about people with limited means, if you truly care about those people, you vote for this budget," he said.

Democrats argued the tax cuts would disproportionately benefit wealthy individuals and businesses, and a decision to reject Medicaid expansion would leave many uninsured Ohioans without health coverage they could have had.

Sen. Capri Cafaro, a Hubbard Democrat, called the rejection of Medicaid expansion cowardly, heartless and short-sighted.

"I have to admit, you can probably tell, that I have never been so angry, so appalled and so heartbroken by the actions of the General Assembly," she said.

After months of debate, Ohio's GOP lawmakers delivered the Republican governor a political victory ahead of next year's re-election bid by including income-tax cuts in the bill.

The package reduces the statewide income tax rate gradually over three years, beginning with an 8.5 percent tax cut on income earned in 2013 and moving to a 10 percent tax reduction by 2015.

The income tax cut would be partly paid for by an increase in the state sales tax rate, which would rise from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent. The tax also would be applied to digital goods, such as e-books and music downloads.

The small business tax break in the bill offers individuals the ability to write off 50 percent of their first $250,000 in business income annually.

The bill also adjusts how Ohio calculates the state's share of funding to public school districts and community schools, incorporating ideas from the administration, the House and the Senate.

The legislation increases the amount schools receive per pupil to $5,745 in 2014 and $5,800 in 2015 and adopts a revised version of Kasich's proposal to create a Straight A grant fund that rewards districts for innovation and efficiency.

Besides sweeping policy changes, the state's most significant policy document also contains the usual array of add-ons, including a last-minute amendment requiring Ohio doctors to inform women seeking abortions in writing whether a fetal heartbeat is present.

Abortion-rights supporters demonstrated ahead of Thursday's votes, criticizing the way Ohio lawmakers slipped an 11th-hour provision into the state budget that would require doctors to inform pregnant women of the presence of a fetal heartbeat before performing the procedure. Abortion foes also staged a counter-protest.

Security inside the building was stepped up as some protesters shouted at lawmakers debating the bill.


Associated Press Writers Regina Garcia Cano and Ann Sanner contributed to this report.