Every two years a new General Assembly convenes in Ohio. The General Assembly will consider hundreds of bill and even pass many of them, but none are more important to state government than the appropriations bills that make up the budget bill.
The state budget cycle aligns with the state fiscal year of July 1 through June 30, so the legislative process for passing a budget typically runs from sometime in January through June 30 every odd-numbered year. In addition to allocating funding for Ohio’s K–12 schools, the budget bill also typically contains numerous substantive changes in the law (e.g., teacher evaluation changes, licensure requirements). Following is a high-level overview of the budget process, with a goal of informing school officials how, when, and to whom to provide input during this process. This input is critical to ensuring that legislators have the practical information they need to determine how their proposals would affect school districts. This practical information is valuable to the decision-making processes taking place at the state level during the budget process.
The governor begins by submitting the planned executive budget for the main operating appropriations bill to the General Assembly within four weeks after the new General Assembly is organized (or by March 15 if a new governor is in office). Each expense must come from a specific funding source, and each funding source may fund only certain expenses. Perhaps the most important requirement is that the budget be balanced: expenses may not exceed revenues. The governor may order spending reductions or even declare a fiscal emergency if revenues fail to meet projections. The governor typically uses the executive budget as a way to signal policy priorities and to propose new ideas. The governor’s budget is presented to the House without changes, so this is not an effective time to lobby the governor for changes.
The newly drafted budget bill (the current bill is HB 49) lands in Ohio’s House of Representatives, where it is referred to the Finance Committee and subcommittees. These committees hold hearings on the bill, when input may be provided to state representatives through written and live testimony. It is quite common for extensive changes to be made based on recommendations of the committees and subcommittees. Because of this, the House committee and subcommittee hearing phase is an especially important time for school officials and professional organizations to provide input. When extensive changes are made in committees, a substitute bill is drafted. After the bill has been considered and amended in the committee, it goes back to the House for a House floor vote.
Normally, after the House passes the bill, it is introduced in the Senate. However, because of time constraints on the budget bill, the Senate Finance Committee will usually begin its hearings on the bill while it is still in the House. The Senate Finance Committee and subcommittees hold hearings and receive input just as the House committees do. In some budget cycles, the subcommittees do not hold their own hearings. Rather, all hearings are held by the full Finance Committee. After the substitute bill is amended in the committee, it goes to the Senate for a floor vote. As with the House committee and subcommittee phase, this is an important time for school officials and professional organizations to provide input.
The House must then concur in, or agree to, the Senate amendments. But this sometimes doesn’t happen. In this event, a conference committee is formed of members of both the House and the Senate. The conference committee must reach agreement on a committee report (also referred to as a compromise bill) to be voted on by the full House and Senate by the June 30 deadline. Each chamber must approve an identical budget bill. No amendments may be made by the separate chambers when they vote on the committee report, and time is very limited between the conclusion of the conference committee and the votes on the final bill. Thus, any last-minute lobbying must occur before the conclusion of the conference committee. This is sometimes when fast-moving changes are inserted or deleted from the bill.
Back to the Governor
When the legislature finally agrees to the terms of the bill, it quickly moves back to the governor to be signed. The governor may sign the bill or veto certain provisions, called a line-item veto. The reasons for the veto would be provided, and the General Assembly may, by three-fifths vote, override the veto. The veto power does not allow the governor to add to the budget bill – only to subtract. This allows for some final limited input from school officials and professional organizations.
How, and to Whom, to Provide Input
During committee hearings, the Finance Committees of both the House and the Senate receive input from state agencies, lobbyists, special interest groups, and other legislators and stakeholders. Testimony may be provided for these hearings in either written or live verbal form. Although written input will be heard, live and in person is often much more effective. Additionally, any legislator may provide input in the form of amendments. The state education associations are active during this process, so stay tuned. Ennis Britton attorneys also carefully monitor developments, using Twitter to give up-to-the-minute updates. During this important time, we can assist your district or group in preparing and delivering testimony at the Statehouse.
Follow these links to stay up-to-date on the House Finance Committee schedule and the Senate Finance Committee schedule. Follow Ennis Britton and our attorneys on Twitter to get the most current information. When the budget is completed, our firm immediately reads and holds an Administrator’s Academy in July to let you know what’s in the budget.