In a departure from prior years, lawmakers are planning not one but two capital appropriations bills, according to the Senate’s leader.
Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said lawmakers are on track to introduce House and Senate bills early next week.
In prior cycles, it was the Senate that has taken the lead in authoring a single two-year spending bill. But the thought is that by introducing twin bills, lawmakers can begin hearings in both chambers simultaneously, expediting the legislative process.
“I think we’ve worked very well together with the administration and with the House and it’ll be a pretty smooth process,” Sen. Obhof said in an interview.
It’s the House version, Sen. Obhof said, that he believes will ultimately be passed. Brad Miller, a spokesman for House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) confirmed the House measure is on track to be unveiled early next week.
Sen. Obhof has previously predicted this cycle’s capital budget will be “a little bit tighter” than 2016’s $2.6 billion spending bill.
Lawmakers in both chambers have spent recent weeks meeting among themselves and with interested parties to hammer out the finer points of the proposal in advance of its introduction. The goal, as in past years, is to have the legislation as close to a final product as possible before the formal hearings begin.
Gov. John Kasich, meanwhile, is expected to push for the inclusion of $20 million in bond-backed funds to be set aside for funding community service organizations. That’s on top of about $130 million being targeted for other “community projects.”
The 2019-2020 funding bill is also expected to include reappropriations for ongoing projects, a topic tackled in years past through separate legislation.
If it pans out like recent capital bills, the measure that’s enacted will clear both chambers with few if any changes, having been worked out behind the scenes beforehand.
Ohio’s institutions of higher education are heeding the Kasich administration’s order that they focus state capital dollars on maintaining what Ohio already has rather than building entirely new facilities, with only two projects seeking funds for new buildings.
The state’s four-year public universities are asking lawmakers for nearly $300 million in funds for capital projects, while community colleges are requesting $100 million, according to submissions made to the administration late last month.
The higher education institutions took a different route for their requests in this budget cycle, with four-year universities and community colleges submitting separate lists instead of having one recommendation coming from a combined panel.
In a letter to the administration, Cleveland State President Ronald Berkman said the projects submitted on behalf of the state’s 14 public universities embody at least one of the guiding principles set out by Gov. John Kasich, including building world-class programs, focusing on maintaining the investments the state has already made in existing campus facilities, advancing strategic collaborations through partnerships, and strengthening learning environments.
According to information submitted to the Office of Budget and Management (OBM), each of the public universities has at least one item on the wish list, totaling $299,999,937 million. The requested funds range from $1.8 million for the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), which is asking for state funds for four projects to replace and upgrade electrical and air conditioning infrastructure to $85 million for Ohio State, including $47 million for renovations to Celeste Lab, Hamilton Hall, and Newton Hall.
Of the projects, only Ohio State University and the University of Toledo (UT) are asking for funds for new construction projects totaling $7 million between the two universities. Ohio State is seeking $6 million for a new lab building for its Wooster campus, while UT is asking for $1 million for a UT/Ohio State Highway Patrol public safety facility.
Community colleges, led through the capital budget process this biennium by Stark State President Para Jones, have requested $100 million in projects, all for renovations, repair and expansions and none for new construction.
“We have heard and adhered to the governor’s desire that the largest portion of each capital budget be dedicated to maintaining the state’s investments in existing campus facilities,” community college presidents said in a letter to the administration noting that the upcoming recommendation does not include a single new building request.
Requested funding for the 23 community colleges ranges from $1.1 million from Belmont Tech for basic renovations and its industrial trades center to $15.4 million for Cuyahoga Community College, which is asking for $13.5 million for structural concrete repairs and the rest for its east campus exterior plaza.
The capital budget is expected to be introduced by the end of the month and legislative leaders are hoping to get the bill to the governor’s desk by the end of March.
Capital Budget Priorities: Soccer Stadium, Convention Center, Cultural Projects Highlight Metro Areas’
Cincinnati soccer boosters are hoping to score $4 million in the state capital budget with the goal of bringing a major league soccer franchise to the city.
The request is part of a much larger package of infrastructure initiatives that local governments in Hamilton County are hoping will lead to a 21,000-seat soccer stadium and a Major League Soccer franchise for the city.
In Toledo, economic development leaders are looking to the state capital budget process for $10 million to cover convention center improvements. In Columbus, local leaders want $5 million for upgrades at the Center of Science and Industry downtown, while Cleveland is requesting $5 million of its own for riverfront improvements.
The requests are among many big-ticket items local governments and development groups are targeting for the local projects portion of the coming state capital appropriations bill.
Legislators and metro-area economic development groups have submitted their requests for the funding measure. The bill, which is also expected to include reappropriations for ongoing capital projects, is being eyed for introduction later in February and passage by April.
The local projects make up a relatively small portion of the capital spending bill, which includes funding for other large state projects, but usually consumes most of the planning and negotiations among lawmakers. The capital budget for last biennium totaled $2.62 billion in appropriations, but just $160 million of that was for community projects. Officials say the preliminary funding target for local projects is less this cycle at about $130 million.
Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said this week the overall total is also expected to be lower than it was two years ago.
Cincinnati Region: The highlight of the Cincinnati area’s requests is the FC Cincinnati stadium proposal, but that project accounts for a fraction of the nearly $22 million in requests from the region.
Other major items include $2 million from the Cincinnati Museum Center for a project to advance STEM education, and $2.5 million for the expansion of capacity and recovery units at the Hamilton County Justice Center.
The region is also proposing $1.25 million for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and $1 million for building envelope improvements at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Dayton Region: The region’s top priority in the Montgomery County region’s list is the Arcade Innovation HUB, a joint venture between the University of Dayton and The Entrepreneurs Center. The region requested $2 million for the HUB, which would include mixed-use space for academic, research and experiential learning programs from UD and programs to help startup companies through TEC. The total project is expected to cost more than $41 million.
Another top request in Montgomery County is $1 million for a $17 million renovation project for YWCA Dayton’s flagship facility.
The region also requested money for projects in surrounding counties, led by nearly $1.9 million for the Greene County Career Center. That project, called the Take Flight Initiative, is designed to provide aviation, aerospace, engineering, manufacturing and technology training. The overall price tag for that project is $60 million.
Area officials also requested $2.2 million for the modernization of the archives center at Wright State University. That project would include environmental controls to preserve records and the space to house 16,000 linear feet of collections and more than 20,000 books and journals. The total cost is anticipated to be $8.2 million.
Cleveland Region: The Greater Cleveland Partnership’s recommendations are led by a $5 million request for the second phase of restoring the Irishtown Bend on the city’s riverfront. The work would include stabilizing the bulkheads along the bend and starting work to turn the top of the hillside into a public green space. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, December 18, 2017)
CCH Development Corporation, part of the MetroHealth System, asked for $1.25 million for a neighborhood innovation space along the W. 25th Street corridor, and Karamu House asked for $2 million as part of a $4 million capital campaign aimed at redesigning its campus.
Columbus Region: The biggest ask on the Columbus Partnership’s wish list was for $5 million for the redevelopment of COSI. That project has a total cost of $40 million.
The group is also asking for $2 million as part of a larger project for a 35-story tower where the parking lot of North Market now sits. The Market Tower grand atrium and arcade project is expected to cost $115 million in total.
Another request comes from the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, which is asking for $2 million as part of a $4.85 million air cargo terminal ramp expansion.
The Columbus region also asked for $2 million for park development on former quarry land in Northwest Columbus. The overall cost of the project is $20 million.
Toledo Region: The list from the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce included the biggest single project ask: $10 million for the renovation of SeaGate Convention Center, including the renovation of existing space and the construction of a new ballroom.
Another big project from northwest Ohio is a $5 million request for the first phase of changes to the Toledo Museum of Art. That project includes the installation of new elevators to make it more accessible, the renovation of the Glass Crafts Building and the creation of an art support building.
Other big projects out of Toledo include the Imagination Station Theater Experience, for which the chamber is asking for $3 million and a new senior center and $2 million for the Wood County Committee on Aging.
Akron Region: The Greater Akron Chamber’s list of recommendations total $16.2 million, led by $1.5 million for the Akron Civic Theater restoration and expansion and $2.5 million for Hudson’s downtown district parking facility.
The Akron Civic Theater project is expected to cost a total of $6.35 million, with the anticipated project cost of the Hudson parking facility at $5.56 million.
Bigger projects that the chamber is requesting help with include the Akron Community Health Center’s One Campus Project, with a total cost of more than $38 million. The chamber is requesting $1.14 million from the capital budget for that project.
Other big projects include the Barberton Municipal Justice Center, with the city seeking $1 million in the capital budget of a total project cost of $14.3 million.
Youngstown Region: The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber list of priorities include $7 million for the Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center.
Another major project requested was a community literacy, workforce and cultural center in Campbell, for which it asked for $3 million. The chamber also requested $1.4 million for a transitional housing project helping veterans in Mahoning County.
In Trumbull County, the chamber requested a number of projects, including $1.8 million for the City of Niles to modernize the Eastwood Field baseball facility. That project would include a new video board, energy efficient lighting upgrades and a new playing surface.
The Eastwood Field project and others in Trumbull County also appeared in requests from the office of Sen. Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta). Both lists of requests also included $2.3 million for the construction of a compressed natural gas fueling station.
Ohio Budget and Management Director Tim Keen says he expects the capital bill to go to the Legislature by the end of February and be passed by April 1. That gets it in ahead of the General Assembly’s break and 90 days out from July 1 when many of the provisions will need to be effective.
After two previous rounds where Gov. John Kasich convened a panel of higher education leaders to pare down capital requests from institutions, the administration has changed things up for the upcoming capital budget.
Instead of using a higher education funding commission, Cleveland State President Ron Berkman is working with four-year institutions on a list of their needs, while Stark State President Para Jones is working with the community colleges. According to the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE), both presidents are asking their colleagues for input and are narrowing the list of requested projects to those that align closest with the principles given to them by the administration.
Previously, Kasich had convened one panel representing both four-year and community colleges to help divide up the pot for capital budget dollars in higher education. Schools are also expecting to have a smaller pool of money to work with in this capital budget than under 131-SB310, the last capital appropriations budget.
ODHE said colleges and universities were asked to devote the vast majority of their capital requests to maintaining what they already have, “with an extremely high bar for new construction projects.” The institutions are also being asked to submit recommendations based on a number of guiding principles, including the following:
- Help build world-class programs.
- Focus on maintaining the investment the state has already made in existing campus facilities.
- Stimulate creativity by advancing strategic collaborations through partnerships, both on campus and with others in the public and private sector.
- Reflect the needs of today’s students by strengthening their learning environments, ensuring their safety and encouraging new degree and certificate completion opportunities.
- Increase Ohio’s competitive advantage by capitalizing on existing strengths.
- Strengthen the ability to respond to new or increased workforce development opportunities in the state.
- Encourage joint efforts to reduce construction costs and generate ongoing efficiencies.
ODHE said it will review the funding proposals along with the Office of Budget and Management (OBM).
Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, said higher education institutions are expecting to have $400 million in the capital budget, with $300 million for four-year institutions and $100 million for community colleges. He said that is about 10 percent less than what schools had in 131-SB310. While there is more need than funding available, Johnson said schools understand the constraints of the budget this time around.
He said Berkman has asked the IUC’s executive committee to help him review projects that are submitted and make the recommendations to the state. He expected the list of projects to be submitted early in the new year.
With the biennial budget in the rear-view mirror and the December holidays looming, Ohio policymakers and stakeholders are beginning work on the next big state spending measure – the capital appropriations bill for Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020.
The legislation designed to fund capital improvements with state-issued debt is slated for introduction and passage by April 2018, meaning work has just started and is expected to move quickly at the beginning of the new year.
State agencies submitted requests to the Office of Budget and Management in mid-November for the funding that will make up the bulk of the bill. Officials expect the total price tag of the measure to be similar to the last capital bill.
Community project requests (from legislators and local governments) that make up a small but often much-discussed portion of the legislation, are expected to be submitted around the first of the year.
The General Assembly is eyeing the bill’s introduction around February or early March, with votes expected before April. Once the bill is introduced, the process usually goes quickly.
The previous capital budget (SB310 in the 131st General Assembly) cleared both chambers and was signed by the governor just over a month after its introduction. Having been worked out behind the scenes beforehand, the measure sailed through the legislature without opposition or amendments,
That measure included $2.62 billion in appropriations, including $160 million in community projects.
The upcoming capital bill is also expected to include re-appropriations for ongoing projects. The bill that separately reauthorized ongoing debt-backed work in the last capital biennia (SB260, 131st General Assembly) topped out at about $1.5 billion.
In guidance issued to state agencies, Budget Director, Tim Keen said spending in the upcoming bill will remain limited.
“Consistent with Governor Kasich’s commitment to restrain government spending, it is imperative that appropriations in the FYs 2019-2020 capital biennium also be restrained,” he wrote. “Accordingly, the capital bill will focus on necessary renovations and upkeep of the state’s current capital assets and will reflect an extremely high threshold with respect to funding of new construction.”
Community leaders including chambers of commerce in the state’s metro areas are expected to submit their requests for new investment to the legislature by the end of the year, and legislators are working on identifying projects they will request. The target total for community projects, at roughly $130 million, is lower than what was allotted in the current capital biennium.
Director Keen wrote in his guidance that the community projects will constitute a small portion of the capital bill, with those awards being decided by collaboration between the legislature and the administration.
An item that could draw interest in the capital budget is the proposed inclusion of funding for new voting machines. Counties have said they will need state help paying for the machines ahead of the 2020 election.
Per usual, the capital bill also will provide a few hundred million for state colleges and universities. Much of that total will go toward maintaining and upgrading current facilities.
The Ohio Senate is considering legislation to amend the Ohio Constitution, permitting local governments to borrow from a “Bond Bank” for infrastructure construction projects.
House Bill 54, which passed the House (93-1), is sponsored by Representative Bill Blessing (R, Cincinnati) and Representative Theresa Gavarone (R, Bowling Green). If signed into law, the bill would create the State Bond Bank to issue tax-exempt bonds, to be re-paid by local government borrowers. The localities would “pool” their needs rather than enter into smaller, uneconomical debt, creating economies of scale. The Ohio Treasurer would administer the funds. The Ohio Senate Finance Committee has held four hearings on the bill.
State lawmakers on Oct. 18 outlined a proposal designed to limit unnecessary licensure for working in certain jobs, saying the state processes often create high barriers to entry. The bill sponsors, Rep. Ron Hood (R-Ashville) and Rep. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), told the House Government Accountability & Oversight Committee that the bill, HB 289, would give the legislature more oversight of occupational licensing boards. The measure would also create a framework for alternatives to occupational licensure while protecting public health and safety, they said.
“In this legislature, we often talk about how we can help foster job creation. Frankly, occupational regulation is the antithesis of job creation,” Rep. Hood said. “It creates a situation where well-intentioned people must go, hat in hand, to the government and ask for a permission slip to simply earn a living. It makes obtaining a job in that field even more difficult and contributes to the unemployment rate.”
The proposal creates a process similar to a fiscal note that would educate the public on licensure changes.
The bill proposes that every occupational licensing board would automatically sunset at the end of five years unless renewed by the legislature. “Understand, this does not mean that these boards will necessarily be disbanded, only that they must be reviewed,” Rep. McColley said. “It is quite possible, and I would hope probable, that some existing licensure requirements can be modified to be less restrictive, but it is highly unlikely that these boards will be eliminated en masse.”
The measure includes a provision similar to one included in the budget bill, HB49, that would give the Common Sense Initiative the ability to evaluate actions by licensing boards for anti-competitive behavior and stop them. That oversight was designed to deal with potential conflicts of interests when people in an industry regulate themselves. After Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) asked if the intent was to change what was included in the budget, Rep. Hood said the bill was drafted before the budget passed and that an amendment would eliminate that provision.
Chairman Rep. Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati) asked if the sponsors had considered the effect of reducing licensure requirements on people who had already gone through the more rigorous process. “What do you do in the case when people went through that schooling, they expected to have an asset of a certain value for life, and now it’s worth a lot less through no fault of their own?” he asked, using the 1,500-hour requirement for a cosmetologist license as an example. Rep. McColley said it would be wrong to require other people to go through those same burdensome regulations if they aren’t needed, just because other workers went through the process first. “Market forces can take effect,” he said. “Those who had more training and those who were more skilled and more established in their businesses would continue to have an advantage over the competition.”
Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) asked how the legislative review of the licensing boards would differ from what is done in the budget process. By having a review every five years outside of the budget process, Rep. McColley said, the legislature would be able to take more time to look at the regulatory process of each board, rather than just its financial situation. “I’m of the belief that the budget process is probably not an appropriate avenue to review the complete regulatory structure of these boards and agencies,” he said. “With everything that’s going on in a budget and the accelerated time-frame we have for those discussions, I don’t think it’s really a good avenue to do a deep dive into these licensing agencies.”
Joint Committee Begins Review of State’s Tax Expenditures (including Historic Preservation Tax Credit)
Tax Commissioner Joe Testa was the lone sponsor Tuesday at the first meeting of the latest group charged with studying Ohio’s tax expenditures — more popularly known as “tax loopholes.”
Led by Sen. Scott Oelslager (R-Canton) and including Sens. John Eklund (R-Chardon) and Vern Sykes (D-Akron) and Reps. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), Gary Scherer (R-Circleville) and John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake), this committee was pointed to by the 2020 Tax Policy Study Commission as key in the state’s potential move toward a flat tax.
Testa told the committee that Ohio’s existing tax expenditures currently total over $9 billion in foregone annual revenue with the approximately 100-plus tax expenditures “seldom subject to formal review.” However, under current law, each tax expenditure is to be reviewed “at least once every eight years.”
Testa defined a “tax expenditure” as “a legislated variation from — more commonly a reduction to — a standardized tax base. … [Specifically], Ohio law defines a tax expenditure to mean a tax provision in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) that exempts, either in whole or in part, certain persons, income, goods, services or property from the effect of taxes established in the ORC, including, but not limited to tax deductions, exemptions, deferrals, exclusions, allowances, credits, reimbursements and preferential tax rates.”
He noted they often remain in law “without a pre-determined termination date.”
Testa referenced the biennial summary of the state’s tax expenditures produced by his department in conjunction with the preparation of the budget. He said there are currently 131 tax expenditures, spread across nine different taxes. (The latest version of this document can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/y78zmzpd.)
The sales and use tax has the most tax expenditures with 57, with a revenue loss to the state of nearly $6 billion in FY18 and nearly $6.2 billion in FY19.
It is followed by the personal income tax which has 37 tax expenditures totaling $2.3 billion for FY18 and nearly $2.4 billion for FY19.
Schaffer asked whether he had a list of those tax expenditures that they should look at: ones that are a drag on the economy. He also wanted to know which Testa believes work.
Testa said he did not but that he believes a “public airing,” where people come in to defend why a specific tax expenditure should be retained is beneficial.
Eklund wondered whether the parameters of the committee’s work should be extended beyond tax expenditures affecting the General Revenue Fund (GRF) to include those affecting local governments and non-GRF funds.
Testa said he believes all of this is fair game: all of the money is “taxpayers’ money” and should be subject to review.
Rogers asked what other data the department could share with the committee with Testa saying they can see what additional information they can provide as the committee zeroes in on a tax. Oelslager said they will be working with the department as they proceed.
Sykes asked where they should focus. Testa, saying he didn’t want to presume to direct the committee, added that the sales tax has the most or they may want to start with the oldest tax expenditures.
Asked after the hearing about his timeline for the committee’s work, Oelslager responded that they “have eight years.” He said he will be consulting with members before proceeding.
The 2020 Tax Policy Study Commission has issued its final report after a two-year review of Ohio’s tax system, but those hoping for a set of firm policy recommendations will likely be disappointed. That’s because the commission’s report comes down to one recommendation: Further study is required.
The bulk of the report’s 323 pages consist of copies of public testimony submitted to the commission. The only recommendation contained in the document is that the Tax Expenditure Review Committee conduct a more in-depth study moving forward. (Final Report)
“Although the (commission) heard testimony on the tax credits and expenditures, a more thorough review is needed and is required as part of the permanent Tax Expenditure Review Committee,” the report recommends.
Historic Preservation Tax Credit
By Oct. 31, 2016, the group had published its findings on the historic preservation tax credit, calling for stronger reporting and tracking requirements, increased disclosure of how much of the credit will support the proposed project, and regular budget language depicting the total allowable amount of credits that may be authorized during the biennium.
Sen. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina), who co-chaired the panel along with Rep. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), called the commission’s work a “great process” that resulted in plenty of information useful during budget talks earlier this year.
“Any time you have a focused look at this sort of information it’s helpful.” he said in an interview.
Despite the final report’s lack of conclusive recommendations, taking the view that the commission accomplished little would be inaccurate, he said. In addition to the final report, the commission released more detailed reports on the oil and gas severance tax and the historic preservation tax credit over the last two years.
“Certainly there’s more to do, but I would argue look where the state of Ohio was eight years ago or even two years ago in the budget you’ll find substantial changes in (tax) policy,” Sen. Peterson said. “It was a great process, a great opportunity to sit down and work with tax policy.”
Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire), one of two minority members on the committee, was less impressed with the process.
“I don’t think it was as productive as I would have liked it to have been,” Rep. Cera said, who added he expected the process would be more closely tied to tax proposals in recent state budgets.
“I thought the thinking was, ‘Let’s create this commission to look at where the tax policies need to be changed and be prepared for the next budget.’ Of course…with the revenue issues and everything, there really weren’t a whole lot of tax law changes.”
Sen. Charleta B. Tavares (D-Columbus), the group’s other minority member, acknowledged the brevity of the final report but said she agrees that tax policy expenditures need to be thoroughly reviewed.
“These are foregone taxes that reduce our budget revenues, and consequently, the amount of revenue that can be used to provide for the needs of our constituents,” Sen. Tavares said in a statement. “Since my time in the Senate, I have advocated for and sponsored legislation and amendments to create a Tax Expenditure Review Committee…. This committee is necessary to ensure that Ohio has a fair and effective tax system.”
The expenditure review committee was formed by legislation last session (HB9, 131st General Assembly) and was supposed to begin meeting in June 2017.
But legislative leaders failed to appoint members by the statutory deadline, only doing so in July following prodding from Policy Matters Ohio and subsequent media attention. The group, which has a July 1, 2018, deadline for a report, has yet to meet.
With the new report issued, the 2020 study commission now ceases to exist. The state budget (HB64, 131st General Assembly) that created the 2020 group called for the publication of a final report by Oct. 1, 2017. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, October 22, 2015)
The commission’s charge was fourfold: Recommend how to transition personal income tax to a 3.5% or 3.75% flat tax by 2018; explore how to make the historic rehabilitation tax credit more effective; study how to reform the severance tax to maximize competitiveness; and review all tax credits.
Policy Matters Research Director Zach Schiller said he’s glad the group didn’t move forward with recommendations for a flat tax. But he said the recommendation to shift the burden of discussion highlights the need to get the review committee working.
“I think this has made the work of this new tax expenditure review committee all the more important and it is somewhat and it’s unfortunate it hasn’t gotten started already,” Mr. Schiller said.
Regarding the lack of specific recommendations from the 2020 group, Mr. Schiller opined, “It’s better to kick the can down the road than make recommendations that aren’t fully vetted, but that said they spent quite a bit of time having a number of hearings and I hope it isn’t time ill-spent.”
The 2020 panel first met in October 2015, the same day a working group issued a report opining that any change in the Oil and Gas Severance Tax should be based on market conditions.