Householder: Budget Hole Could Be as Big as $2 Billion

Uncategorized  |  April 9, 2020

Calling it a “perfect storm” of circumstance that is increasing costs for the state at the same time as state revenue is plummeting, House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) said the state budget could be as much as $2 billion short of projections by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Householder made the comments on Tuesday during a 50-minute interview with WOSU’s Ann Fisher on her radio show “All Sides.”

The state is currently in lockdown due to fears over the spread of COVID-19, with Gov. Mike DeWine having issued a stay-at-home order and closing all businesses that are not considered essential. In citing a potential $2 billion shortfall, Householder said the state and lawmakers don’t have a whole lot of time to cut its way out of the hole, despite DeWine’s having ordered all state agencies to make a 20 percent cut to their current budget.

One option could be to use the Budget Stabilization Fund, which Householder said currently sits at about $2.7 billion. He said lawmakers already planned for such a contingency, having added language to the coronavirus response in HB197 (Powell-Merrin), which allows the DeWine administration to use the Budget Stabilization Fund to cover any shortfall at the end of the fiscal year with a vote of the Controlling Board. The language also requires the vote to include approval from two members of the Senate and two members of the House.

Asked about DeWine’s order to agencies to cut 20 percent of their budgets, Householder said that is a request for those agencies to self-cut, but he said he doesn’t know how much money it will generate.

“It will not be anywhere close to what we need to cut,” he told Fisher.

Noting that he was House speaker when the state budget took a hit because of Sept. 11, Householder said the difference this time is that because of the health crisis, the state’s expenses will “go through the roof because of the virus,” while the revenues “will fall off the ledge.”

On the wait for many Ohioans to apply for unemployment, Householder said he is not happy with the way it is working, but he understands why there have been difficulties with the number of claims it has received in a short amount of time.

“The technology we need is not in place quite yet and people are paying for it,” he said.

He also weighed in on the decision in HB197 to extend absentee balloting for the presidential primary until April 28 after the Ohio Department of Health ordered polling locations closed on March 17 due to concerns over the coronavirus. Householder said he is not concerned about voters not getting a chance to vote, saying between the people working at the boards of elections and the secretary of state’s office as well as the voters, “they’ll pull this off.”

He said lawmakers have talked about mail-in voting, but he said many people in Ohio prefer to cast a ballot in person on Election Day. There is also a concern about fraud, and a mail-order system is easier to manipulate, he said.

Householder said that he thinks lawmakers will have additional discussions when they return on what to do in the event of an emergency if something like this happens again down the road.

“We need to be better prepared — a little more prepared than what we were this time,” he said.

Fisher asked Householder about the unemployment compensation fund, with the speaker explaining he has asked those in his chamber who have been working on the issue to look at what other states have been doing, especially the bond program that Texas utilizes.

“I would like them to look at all the different systems and come up with the best one that works for Ohio,” he said.

He also talked about the Economic Task Force that he named earlier this week to look at ways Ohio’s economy can rebound after the pandemic eases. He said the task force will likely meet Monday, Tuesday, and Friday through teleconference and will invite business leaders and others to brainstorm on how to bring Ohio out of the shutdown from the pandemic. He has also encouraged DeWine to include members of the House task force on the governor’s task force looking at economic issues to better pass information “up and down the chain.”

Asked about working with the Senate, Householder said each chamber does things a little differently and he felt the House needed to get working on a plan. If the Senate wanted to do something jointly, Householder said he would be happy to participate.

Householder said from his experience, a way to get people back to work is through bond initiatives and infrastructure projects like water, sewers, and highways. He said if lawmakers find projects that they are absolutely convinced will be great for Ohio, they will have to weigh that against raising the state’s debt limit.

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on April 8, 2020.  Copyright 2020 Hannah News Service, Inc.