Local legislators including State Reps. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, Brian Stewart, R-Asheville and State Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, all expressed their strong support for the state’s two-year, $74 billion budget — saying many of the provisions will benefit the region.
DeWine, who praised the bipartisan budget bill earlier in the week, is expected to have signed the bill by June 30 at midnight, but has not by publication time.
The new budget includes a plan to cut income taxes by 3 percent, implement the Fair School Funding Plan, an education reform package, and includes investments lawmakers say will bring jobs to Ohio.
The bill includes $250 million for broadband expansion.
The tax reform plan also reduces the number of tax brackets from five to four and eliminates the income tax for anyone making less than $25,000 per year. Edwards said the budget will be a benefit to southeast Ohio.
“We’re investing in our part of Ohio, we’re investing in education and workforce development,” Edwards said in a statement. “The budget supports law enforcement, first responders and veterans. We’re making a major investment in broadband and we’re helping Ohioans keep more of what they earn. This is a budget that will make a difference.”
Hoagland also commended the bill for the expansions in rural infrastructure and broadband funding.
“I am proud of the work the Senate has done to get the budget across the finish line, and I feel that it is on target to help facilitate many of the needs that our region faces,” Hoagland said. “We were able to allocate funding aimed to directly improve the mobility, communication, and educational infrastructure that our district has been in desperate need of.”
In Athens County, the budget bill includes $2 million for the Bailey’s Trail System project, a major mountain biking spur with a trailhead in Chauncey.
The budget also includes $10 million for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio and $2.5 million for the Appalachian Children’s Coalition, a release said.
Edwards also touted additional investment in the Rural Industrial Park Program, which will receive $30 million over the next two years, a release said.
According to a release, Edwards helped reinstate funding for the program two years ago after it went without state support for several years. The East Meigs Industrial Park is among those who have benefited from the program, a release said.
The budget also makes substantial investments in higher education, including nearly $220 million for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant over the next two years. The grant is the largest need-based financial aid program for higher education, a release said. The state budget plan also supports several initiatives at Ohio University, such as the Voinovich School and the Rural University Program.
The budget also allocated $250 million to broadband in Ohio by committing to support grants under the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program and the Ohio Broadband Expansion Program Authority.
The plan, authored by State Representatives Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, and Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Township, as House Bill 2 and signed into law last month by Governor DeWine, targets the problem of last mile connectivity to households where it remains cost-prohibitive for private providers to otherwise extend their service.
Edwards and Stewart both commended the efforts made to include comprehensive broadband coverage. At one point during budget negotiations, all funding for broadband was stripped from the budget and was later added back in and expanded to its current amount.
Stewart told The Athens Messenger he was “very pleased” to see the broadband package expanded.
“I’m proud that we successfully made expanded broadband internet access a major focus of this budget,” Stewart, who represents neighboring Hocking County said. “The current lack of broadband access in Ohio denies employment, education, healthcare, and commerce opportunities to at least one million Ohioans. I look forward to seeing House Bill 2’s vision for facilitating the expansion of high-speed internet serving households across Ohio.”
Both Edwards and Hoagland also both praised the added investments in the budget for veterans.
“This budget also invests heavily in Ohio’s veterans across the state and works to ensure that the needs of the brave men and women, who have borne the burden of freedom to keep this great country free, are not forgotten,” Hoagland said in a statement.