Budget Corrections Measure Finally Wins Approval

After over a month of negotiations in the Senate, a compromise was reached to deal with the $851 million budget hole created when plans for slots at Ohio's horse racetracks fell through. The bill, HB 318, passed in mid-December and was signed by Governor Ted Strickland shortly before the Christmas holiday following months of negotiations among Strickland, House Speaker Armond Budish (D-Beachwood) and Senate President Bill Harris (R-Ashland). In order to win some Senate Republican votes for the bill’s proposal to delay the final of five planned 4.2 percent income tax cuts, Democrats agreed to include provisions for three pilot projects to use alternative construction management methods by higher education institutions. The compromise legislation directs the chancellor of the Board of Regents to establish pilot criteria for three state university capital projects that will use alternative construction management methods, such as those recommended by a task force earlier this year.

The bill also includes a mechanism for school districts to request and receive a waiver to delay implementing all-day kindergarten until FY 2012; a mechanism to restore funding to the state’s chartered, non-public (parochial) schools; a correction to language in HB 1 restoring $14.7 million to community mental health services; and $2 million to the State Employment Relations Board and the Personnel Board of Review to help merge backroom offices.

Columbus Casino Location Up in the Air

Some Columbus-area leaders, including Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, are advocating for casino developer Penn National Gaming, Inc. to pick a different location than the Columbus address specified in last November's successful constitutional amendment authorizing construction of four casinos in Ohio. The Columbus Partnership, which includes Leslie Wexner, chairman & CEO of Limited Brands; John Wolfe, chairman & CEO of the Dispatch Printing Company; and other area business leaders, recently launched a campaign called Stand Up Columbus! dedicated to moving the planned casino out of the Arena District. Opponents of the Arena District location question placing a casino in an area they describe as designed for family-based entertainment.

Penn National disputes opponents' claims that they ignored local concerns, noting the company met with certain partnership members before the Issue 3 campaign got underway, but have indicated their willingness to discuss other locations. Sen. David Goodman (R-New Albany), primary co-sponsor of a resolution (SJR 8) to require local approval for the casino, said he was hopeful that ongoing discussions would result in a new location that both sides could tolerate.

Changing the Redistricting Process

With the 2010 Census about to begin, it is no surprise that the General Assembly is considering an overhaul of the state's redistricting process. The redistricting process currently rests in the hands of the Ohio Apportionment Board - an administrative body that draws the single-member legislative districts for the Ohio General Assembly every 10 years following the census. Control of the Board is a partisan affair as the Board has only five members - the Governor of Ohio, the Ohio Secretary of State, the Ohio State Auditor, a member selected by the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and the senate leader of the same party, and a member selected by the house and senate leaders of other party.

The Senate already has acted by passing a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 5) to create a sevenmember Ohio Redistricting Commission that would require support from both parties. The joint resolution cleared the Senate along party lines in September and has remained in the House Elections & Ethics Committee without hearings. Meanwhile, House Democrats are preparing to introduce their own measure shortly. Governor Strickland has indicated that he also supports changes to the redistricting process, though he does not support the SJR 5 proposals.

The redistricting process is crucial to watch as how district lines are drawn can have a dramatic impact on which party will control the Statehouse.

Ohio Department of Development Announces Plans for Recovery Act Bond Allocations

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created a new category of bonds called Recovery Zone Bonds. These new bonds help lower the cost of financing public improvements and private projects doing conduit borrowings. The Act places a total cap on the amount of these bonds that can be issued nationwide, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury has allocated amounts to counties and large municipalities (i.e., those municipalities with a population of over 100,000). The state, through the Ohio Department of Development, issued guidelines for counties and municipalities for waiving their allocation and transferring it to the state. If the counties and municipalities fail to complete a Plan of Issuance for the bonds, the state will deem them waived to the state.

If you are involved in major projects that might benefit from Recovery Zone Bond funding, now is the time to contact your county or municipal government to make sure you are included in their Plan of Issuance, which is due to the Department of Development by January 31, 2010. View a list of the allocations >>

To learn more about Recovery Zone Bonds, view previous Calfee First Alerts on these funding sources >>

EPA Proposes Stricter Smog Standard

On January 6, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its proposal to tighten limits for ground-level ozone, the main component of smog. The stricter standards would limit the amount of ozone permitted in the air to between 60 and 70 parts per billion for any eight-hour period. The proposed rule is first subject to the public comment and hearing process. The EPA is looking to issue final standards by the end of August of this year. Once a final standard is established, states will recommend area designations to the EPA by this time next year. The final designations by the EPA would become effective by August 2011, and states would be required to meet the new standards starting in 2014.

The EPA's recent proposal is supported by public health groups, who cite the link between ground-level ozone to a number of serious health problems. The EPA acknowledges, however, that the proposed rule would have a significant impact upon industry. Many businesses have already sustained high costs in meeting the current ozone standards. Recently, Ohio has been able to designate most of the areas in the state as attaining the pre -2008 standard. Achieving attainment under the new standard would now become that much more difficult, with data demonstrating that every metropolitan area in Ohio would be non-compliant under the most generous limit under the proposed standard. Learn More For more information, including Legislator contacts and Committee schedule, visit: www.legislature.state.oh.us