JULIE CARR SMYTH
COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a wide-ranging midterm budget bill Monday after removing $30 million that lawmakers had set aside for bonuses to high-quality nursing homes and striking a number of other provisions.
The policy and spending measure trims state spending by nearly $13.6 million as well as making policy changes aimed at helping government operate with less.
The legislation changes some laws to allow local governments to share certain services, and it eliminates or alters the roles of various government boards and commissions.
In a message explaining his line-article vetoes of the nursing home bonuses and a dozen other articles, Kasich said lawmakers approved new ground rules for reimbursing nursing home earlier this session, and the bonus payments could not be justified.
“This provision would modify that (reimbursement) methodology and increase payments to nursing facilities, while no new data has been presented to justify those changes, demonstrate a need, or explain the rationale for this specific amount,” he wrote.
He also cited “significant implementation problems” with the bonus program.
The Ohio Health Care Association, the state’s largest organization of long-term care providers representing 700 facilities, expressed disappointment with the line-article veto.
The association’s executive director, Pete Van Runkle, said nursing homes are struggling financially in the wake of $360 million in Medicaid cuts and more than $400 million in Medicare cuts in the last year. He said the bonus payments would have been tied to quality measures developed by a team Kasich’s administration led.
“Tying reimbursement to quality is a hallmark of the administration’s policy for health care, which makes this veto doubly frustrating,” Van Runkle said in a statement.
The unusual off-cycle budget bill was Kasich’s creation. He based it on the one-year budget cycle of the federal government, which contrasts with Ohio’s two-year cycle. Kasich is a former Republican congressman, and served as chairman of the U.S. House budget committee in the 1990s.
Other articles Kasich struck from the bill were:
—A provision that would have allowed local school districts to unilaterally adjust building construction agreements in order to reduce their agreed-upon share of costs, which Kasich said would potentially raise the state’s costs and adversely impact average taxpayers to the benefit of a few “select districts”;
—A two-year, $1.5 million pilot program in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties that would have provided home repairs and modifications for 180 eligible elderly or homebound individuals, which he said would have been duplicative;
—A $1 million intervention pilot program for about 150 opiate- or alcohol-addicted offenders facing or finishing time in prison or a halfway house, which he said was too narrowly focused on a single medication;
—A proposed sales and use tax exemption for aerospace vehicle research, which he said was an unjustified benefit to one industry;
—A $500,000 pilot project in up to seven Southwest Ohio counties to test biometric authentication as a way of preventing patients from visiting multiple locations or doctors to get extra prescriptions of dangerous drugs, whose timing and funding source — money that would have come from a fund established to tackle the state’s “pill mill” problem — he called problematic;
—A requirement that the state attorney general approve certain construction management contracts, a duty is a new duty “incongruent” with the office’s mission;
—A provision seeking additional information on the Ohio operations of businesses seeking state contracts, a reporting requirement which he said could have deterred vendors and potentially increased costs.
Despite the vetoes, the bill is still packed with policy and budget changes.
Lawmakers overwhelmed with the complexity and volume of the revisions brought to them by Kasich — and in a legislative election year — split the original bill into several pieces. They also sidelined some of his proposals, most notably a proposed severance tax increase on oil and gas producers. Kasich wants to use the money for modest statewide income-tax relief in two or three years.
House and Senate negotiations on the bill were also slowed in their final days by attempts to insert contentious language requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug testing. Republicans removed that mandate and said it would be pursued in separate legislation.
The bill includes $500,000 in startup costs to implement a new exotic animal regulation and registration system in the state, $42 million for the Clean Ohio fund that preserves farmland and green spaces, and another $3 million for a Lake Erie protection program.
The measure also includes $15 million for cleaning up abandoned factory sites.