It's the beginning of a new year at the Statehouse and Emily McCord speaks to Ohio Public Radio's Bill Cohen to preview what issues lawmakers may tackle in the year ahead.
McCord: Welcome to PoliticsOhio I'm Emily McCord. It’s the start of a new year at the Ohio Statehouse and joined today by Bill Cohen from Ohio Statehouse News Bureau to talk to me about what's ahead. Thanks for being here today.
M: Let's start with Governor Kasich's plan to impose a tax on oil and gas drillers. Kasich this week warned them that if they continue to encourage legislators to block the proposal it could be even more problematic for them in the future. Is Kasich going to be able to pass that legislation?
C: Well, he has had it in front of state legislators for more than a year and even though he is a republican and republicans control both The House and The Senate he has not been able to get either chamber to pass his proposal or even give it committee hearings. They seem to be, at least the majority republicans, seem to be agreeing so far with what the oil and gas industry says which is basically "if you want to increase the severance tax on oil and gas drilling that uses fracking, horizontal fracking, then we may just pick up our rigs and move elsewhere, so you better not increase our taxes at all". In general, that's what the majority republicans seem to be saying at least over the past year, although recently a couple of the republicans legislative leaders predicted that in the coming year legislators will, indeed, OK some form of the governor's tax shift plan.
M: So, if it's not approved what would happen then?
C: The governor has been raising the specter of some liberal group perhaps going out on the streets collecting hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and putting an even bigger tax increase on the drillers on the ballot. Now we went to one of the main groups that actually has its own tax hike plan on the drillers that's Innovation Ohio and we said to them "are you planning some kind of ballot issue" and they basically said "not at the moment". But they have been strongly pushing their own plan that would hike taxes on oil and gas drillers much more than what Kasich has proposed. There is another big difference between the governor's plan and the proposal from Innovation Ohio, the governor wants to use any revenue that the tax hike would bring in he wants to use all of that money to pay for an income tax cut. Innovation Ohio says that would mostly just help the wealthy because after all they pay most of the state income tax instead lets send a lot of the money to cities and schools around the state they need the money badly because they were cut badly with state budget cuts a year of two ago so let’s give them the money so they can restore their workforces.
M: Let's talk about the state budget, what can we expect this year?
C: Well, the money over the last couple of years has been coming in, tax revenue has been coming in, pretty much as budget officials have projected so at least at the moment we don't have a big budget shortfall looming as we did a couple, three and four, years ago so I think the big question is "will there be surplus state money building up?" If there is surplus money coming in "what should we do with it?" Of course, the governor says if there is surplus money we should probably give it back to tax payers in the form of an income tax cut, others might say "no" let’s use any money that comes in extra to build up the rainy day fund more and then you have groups on the left that have basically been saying if there is any surplus state money over the next couple of years let's spend it let's give it to schools, let's give it to cities and let's give it to government programs to the most vulnerable.
M: Are we likely to see the return of any social issues to the statehouse? The Heartbeat Bill seemed liked it wasn't going anywhere at the end of 2012, is that going to stay that way?
C: I think the Heartbeat Bill may very well come back. That's the bill that says if there's fetal heartbeat after 6, 7 8 or 9 weeks then no abortion. The House passed that late last year and the Senate decided to block it so it did not become law, but that could very well come back. There was another loosening of restrictions on concealed carry that one of the chambers passed, but in the end it did not get through last year and that could come back again. There was yet another proposal to basically say to welfare recipients we are going to give you drug tests and if you are found to have taken illegal drugs maybe you won’t get your public assistance. That's a proposal that majority republicans, in general, seem to like but it did not get final passage last year so that could come up again. And then you basically have the 2-year state budget that's the, kind of, granddaddy of them all there are all sorts of policy decisions that are tucked into that, that’ll be the big focus of attention until June 30th, that’s basically the deadline for them to pass a new 2-year state budget.
M; I've been speaking with Bill Cohen withe the Ohio statehouse news bureau, thanks for being here Bill.
C: Sure thing.