Last updated: September 06. 2013 4:07PM - 86 Views

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[caption width="250" caption=" Ohio Gov. John Kasich, left, smiles after signing the state budget bill into law at the Ohio Statehouse Thursday. (Associated Press | Terry Gilliam) "][/caption]

ANN SANNER

Associated Press

COLUMBUS — Just hours before a midnight Thursday deadline, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law a nearly $56 billion state budget that contains broad policy changes for the state, including a plan to privatize several prisons and tie teachers’ pay more closely to student achievement.

The roughly 3,262-page bill also overhauls Medicaid, eliminates Ohio’s estate tax in 2013 and bans most abortions in public hospitals.

“We promised Ohioans a new way and a new day, and we’re delivering,” Kasich said.

He signed the two-year spending plan on the eve of a new fiscal year after vetoing seven articles.

Among articles he struck were a provision that required the Ohio Lottery to say how much it had provided to education and one eliminating an option for schools to do body mass index checks on students. He planned to further discuss the budget Friday and take questions when he meets with legislative leaders at the governor’s residence.

“This is the one they said couldn’t be done,” he said as he used multiple pens in his ceremonial Statehouse office to sign the document.

Speaking at an earlier event in Findlay to mark the spinoff of Marathon Petroleum Corp., Kasich touted that he kept his campaign pledge not to raise taxes while coming up with a balanced budget.

The measure keeps in place an $800 million cut in the personal income tax that went into effect in January.

“There’s a tremendous amount of change,” Kasich said earlier Thursday. “I would argue this bill is the most comprehensive piece of legislation Ohio has passed in modern times.”

The first-term Republican faced an estimated $8 billion budget shortfall when he took office in January. Improved state revenues have put the gap closer to $6 billion.

Kasich and other legislators have contended that such a shortfall forced them to make changes to how the state operates and to trim how much money is directed to agencies, schools and local governments.

Critics, however, argue his plan makes such drastic reductions in funding to school districts and local governments that teachers and police will be laid off and residents will end up taking a financial hit as local tax increases get passed.

Cities, townships and other local governments will see a drop of more than $1 billion during the next two years through a combination of cuts to state funding and changes to the tax money they get.

While state aid to schools increased by roughly $400 million, it will not be enough to compensate for losses under new tax policies and with the end of a nearly $900 million federal economic stimulus program for Ohio.

Among other changes, the measure prohibits hospitals and other facilities receiving state funds from performing elective abortions. It also provides tax credits for investors in Ohio businesses and expands eligibility for Choose Ohio First college scholarships for residents who attend Ohio colleges and universities

“Budget are awfully boring things until you take a look at what we’ve done,” Kasich said at the Findlay event.

The legislation was passed Wednesday along party lines by the Republican-controlled Ohio House. The GOP-led Senate passed the measure Tuesday, with one Republican voting against it.

At a separate, private ceremony Thursday, Kasich also put his pen to several other measures, including a bill to allow certain gun owners to take concealed firearms into bars and other places where alcohol is served. He also signed a measure to open the state parks and other lands to oil and gas drilling.

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Associated Press writer John Seewer contributed to this report from Findlay. AP Statehouse Correspondent Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus also contributed.

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