This year’s biggest drama at the Ohio Statehouse centered around the ongoing struggles between Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Legislature. They culminated in a continuing battle over vetoes.
Perhaps the most controversial item included in this year’s giant budget bill was a plan to freeze Medicaid enrollment for the expanded population.
Deciding to expand Medicaid in Ohio under the federal Affordable Care Act is a seminal part of Gov. John Kasich’s legacy in office. So with his veto pen he struck that provision out of the budget. “We have 700,000 Ohioans who have been able to benefit from the expansion. It’s been able to bring into our state nearly $300 million just in Medicaid expansion alone," Kasich said.
And it wasn’t just the Medicaid expansion freeze. Kasich vetoed 46 other measures from the bill, many dealing with Medicaid. And a lot of the provisions dealt with shifting power away from the governor’s administration and toward the Legislature.
This set up a showdown between Kasich and the General Assembly. And the House didn’t take long to make their next move. They responded by overriding 11 of those vetoes.
Most of those overrides dealt with Medicaid, such as legislative approval for funding changes, seeking more flexibility on charging premiums, and increasing a tax on health insurance to generate local revenue. Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) believed these overrides displayed an important function of the legislature. “Today we celebrate independence in the sense of what our forefathers granted to us in our Constitution which is a separate but equal branch of government. I want to be clear it’s not about winning or losing today it’s about exercising the checks and balances that the government has," Smith said.
This was the first time the House ever took a vote to override a veto from Kasich. Those 11 House overrides made their way to the Senate where the chamber officially implemented six measures Kasich didn’t want. Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) echoed the House’s sentiments about the power struggle between Kasich and lawmakers. “The administrative state has taken on what were traditionally or what should be responsibility of the Legislature and we are starting to take some of those back," Obhof said.
This was the first time in 40 years lawmakers had overridden a budget veto. Other vetoes still stand, though they've apparently been resolved through ongoing talks. For example, the House overrode a veto to let the General Assembly appoint members to an oil and gas commission. They said six years have gone by and Kasich had yet to appoint people to the panel. The Senate didn't act on that. But now Kasich has named several appointees to the commission.
Another dispute was over attaching a franchise fee to managed care organizations. This would patch a budget hole for local governments left behind when the feds eliminated a tax on Medicaid managed care groups. The now-eliminated tax brought in about $207 million annually.
Instead of overriding the veto and allowing for the franchise fee, lawmakers met with several groups and approved a one-time transitional fund of $50 million. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko said the fix still isn’t enough to prevent cuts to local public transportation. “There’s gonne be some of our constituents who aren’t going to have access, whether the people with disabilities or senior citizens or students and that’s gonna cause problems," Yuko said.
The freeze on Medicaid enrollment for the expanded population could still be overridden in the next year. House and Senate leaders have said the freeze would be helpful in the event that Congress repeals the expansion down the road.