Republican Gov. John R. Kasich’s administration will ask the Controlling Board on Oct. 21 – that’s a week from Monday – to expand Medicaid to cover an estimated 275,000 Ohioans. Half of those men and women are considered working poor. And an estimated 26,000 are Ohio veterans of the armed forces.
The Treasury will pay 100 percent of the cost of covering these Ohioans for the first three years of the expansion, to begin Jan. 1. The federal share would then slowly decline to 90 percent, and remain there.
Some members of the Statehouse Republicans’ Awkward Squad will likely shriek that asking the Controlling Board to act in that fashion is unheard of. But that’s term-limit amnesia. Ohio law clearly lets the board do that.
The leading expert on Ohio budget mechanics, the late Richard G. Sheridan, of the Center for Community Solutions, wrote that the Controlling Board may create a budget fund to receive revenue not anticipated by a state budget. Then he wrote, the Controlling Board may authorize a state official or agency to spend that money for the rest of the pertinent budget period (in this case, June 30, 2015).
Examples: The Controlling Board – unanimously, in 2010 – authorized the Education Department to spend $100 million in federal “Race to the Top” grants. The board also got some say so over so-called federal “stimulus” funds that state agencies received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
For instance, the 2009-11 state budget – sponsored by a current Controlling Board member, Rep. Ron Amstutz, a Wooster Republican – let the Controlling Board increase the amount of construction money a state agency could spend if that were needed for the agency to receive and spend stimulus money. That is, the seven board members, just like the 132-member legislature, could set the amounts state agencies spend.
And Controlling Board-like panels aren’t uncommon in the other 49 states. One is the Legislative Budget Board in Texas; another is South Carolina’s Budget and Control Board.
The question now is the how the Controlling Board’s seven board members will vote. Six of the seven are also General Assembly members. The seventh, board president Randy Cole, represents state Budget Director Timothy S. Keen; it’s a given that Cole would support Kasich. It’s highly likely the Controlling Board’s two Democrats, Sen. Tom Sawyer of Akron and Rep. Chris Redfern of Port Clinton, will also vote “yes” on Medicaid expansion.
But if Sawyer, Redfern and board president Cole vote “yes,” Kasich will still need a fourth Controlling Board “yes” (from one of the panel’s four Republican legislators). The board’s two House Republican members are Amstutz and Rep. Cliff Rosenberger of Clinton County’s Clarksville, northeast of Cincinnati. (In a further twist, Amstutz and Rosenberger are competing with each other to become the House’s next speaker.) The Controlling Board’s two Senate Republicans are Sens. William P. (Bill) Coley of Middletown and Chris Widener of Springfield.
Kasich has to line up, maybe has lined up, a fourth vote. There were hints, meanwhile, that GOP Speaker William G. Batchelder might name temporary board replacements for Amstutz and Rosenberger with less at stake, caucus-wise.
Rosenberger said Friday he hadn’t yet seen Kasich’s detailed Controlling Board request and so couldn’t say if he’d favor or oppose it. He also said he hadn’t asked Batchelder for an Oct. 21 replacement. Neither Amstutz nor Batchelder’s spokesman could be reached. But what is in reach is this conclusion: Campaigning legislators always say they want to go to Columbus to make the tough decisions. On Oct. 21, Ohioans will see who meant it.