Sunday, October 17, 2021

Ohio Senate leadership does not want additional money for broadband expansion

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Included is a 5% income tax cut for Ohio workers as well as other tax cuts related to business development that Huffman said is meant to spur job growth. The Ohio House of Representatives’ budget, passed in April, proposed a 2% income tax cut. Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and Finance Chairman Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, outlined on Tuesday their chamber’s proposed state budget for the next two fiscal years. Highlights of this suggested budget include changes to Ohio’s school funding model and more than $1 billion in new tax cuts.

To pay for these tax cuts, Senate leaders want to reduce funding for the Department of Job and Family Services as well as the Department of Medicaid. Dolan characterized these as administrative cuts that will have no impact to public services. Outside of budget negotiations, both chambers recently approved House Bill 2 to create the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program. DeWine signed the bill into law in May; it allocates an initial $20 million of funding.

The House’s budget bill included $190 million for this purpose. The hope was to pump more money into this grant program via the state budget. The Senate proposes no additional money for broadband expansion, removing the House’s $190 million in its entirety.

Internet access has been a priority for both Democratic and Republican officials in recent years. Gov. Mike DeWine proposed $250 million in grant funding in his own budget proposal earlier in 2021. Another way to pay for the tax cuts is the elimination of funding toward internet expansion projects.

“I think people are anxious to spend money on something that everybody thinks is a good idea,” Huffman told reporters on Tuesday. “I think it’s a bad idea to just start spending without a plan.” Huffman acknowledged there are rural and urban areas of the state without reliable internet access, but still expressed hesitation over an increase in spending to fix the problem. Experts believe an estimated 1 million Ohioans do not have access to high-speed internet at home.

The goal of the grant program is to fill in that “cost gap.” The state funding would help entice companies to invest in expansion projects in otherwise hard-to-reach areas. Certain areas of the state — such as hilly areas of Appalachian Ohio — lack internet access because the challenging terrain discourages private companies from wanting to pursue projects there. The Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program created by HB 2 does set forth a detailed way to use state funding toward infrastructure projects.

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