Ohio's New Budget Includes Stricter Abortion Language, Medicaid Maneuvers, More Middle Class Taxes

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the state's $62 billion state spending plan into law Sunday after vetoing an attempt by legislators to block his administration from expanding Medicaid to additional low-income residents — but he left in place a new requirement that doctors inform pregnant women seeking abortions of any fetal heartbeat.

In an evening ceremony at the Statehouse, the Republican governor praised the two-year operating budget that kicks in Monday for continuing his efforts to improve Ohio's economy through an income-tax cut, business incentives and new ways of funding education.

The bill's full text sat nearly three feet tall aside Kasich at the signing, high above 4-year-old Felix Plouck — the son of a cabinet member he allowed to help him dot an "i."

"There is no reason why Ohio cannot take its rightful place on the mountaintop," Kasich said. "There is no reason why Ohio cannot reclaim prominence. There is no reason why Ohio cannot be the greatest state in all of the states of the great country of America. We can get there."

The Medicaid limit was among 22 line-item vetoes Kasich made to the bill. It would have barred the state's Medicaid program from covering the additional low-income residents allowed under the Affordable Care Act. In his veto message, he said the veto would give him and the Legislature "maximum flexibility."

Kasich's initial budget called for expanding Medicaid. But GOP leaders stripped the idea from the House version of the state spending plan in April. The House went even further, inserting a provision blocking the expansion.

Roughly 366,000 Ohioans would eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 if the state expands Medicaid, a key component of Democratic President Barack Obama's federal health care law.

On taxes, Kasich vetoed a legislative attempt to impose the state sales-tax on transactions between out-of-state Internet retailers and Ohio residents, as well as rejecting several tax credits and exemptions.

His veto message said similar state attempts on Internet sales taxes have sparked "extensive litigation" and he believes it's up to Congress to act before such a move would be viable.

An exemption from new exotic animal regulations for spider monkeys was also vetoed. Kasich called it "an unjustified step backward" from a law enacted after Ohio drew attention for a 2011 incident in which dozens of lions, tigers, bears and other creatures were set free by their owner before he committed suicide.

Kasich's decision to let stand several controversial abortion-related provisions drew swift criticism from abortion-rights groups, as well as praise from foes of the procedure.

The new law will require doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat through an external ultrasound when a woman is seeking an abortion and let her know if one is found. It does not prevent the doctor from performing the procedure, however, as last year's unsuccessful "heartbeat bill" proposed.

"Kasich's agenda is clear — to put politicians in charge of women's personal, private medical decisions — even in cases of rape or incest, or when a woman is faced with serious threats to her health," said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

Ohio Right to Life's Mike Gonidakis said his group was grateful that Kasich left the abortion-related provisions in the budget. Additional items restrict public funds and counseling services when abortion is involved.

"It took a lot of compassion and courage for Gov. Kasich and the Legislature to stand up and do the right thing," he said.

The budget bill will deliver an estimated $2.7 billion in overall tax cuts to Ohioans over the next three years, including a phased-in income tax cut for individuals and small businesses. The cut is partly paid for by increasing the state sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent.

Also in the budget are revamped ground rules for funding public colleges and universities to more closely tie state aid to graduation rates. Under the plan, universities won't receive a portion of their per-pupil funding until the student has graduated. Kasich vetoed a provision that would have imposed certain mandates on K-12 districts' spending on gifted services.

Democrats said the tax changes in the bill — including elimination of a 12.5 percent property tax credit on any new school levies — will disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

"Kasich's move to increase sales and property taxes shifts a greater burden on to working families across our state, and will make it even harder for local communities to fund essential services like education," Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said in a statement.

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