Ohio state Rep. Derek Merrin lays out ‘competing’ set of Republican priorities
State Rep. Derek Merrin on Wednesday rolled out the priorities he and his supporters will pursue in the coming session. The Monclova Township Republican leads a majority of the Ohio House Republican caucus, but that cohort isn’t big enough to pass legislation on its own.
A coalition of Democrats and other Republicans handed the speakership to Jason Stephens. As speaker, Stephens controls the agenda, but his GOP backers can’t pass bills on their own either. If his stated priorities are any indication, Stephens is not eager to water down his conservative ambitions to pass measures with Democratic support.
In effect, Speaker Stephens and Rep. Merrin are staring each other down, waiting see whose group can attract enough defections to pass legislation. Merrin’s priorities represent his latest bid to bring members to his side.
Overlaps and distinctions
Perhaps the most notable quality of Merrin’s list was how much it aligned with the priorities Stephens introduced last week. Sponsors for the latest versions of the “backpack bill,” anti-trans legislation to “save” women’s sports, and an anti-boycott measure were all on hand with Merrin to promote their ideas.
Stephens claimed all three as priorities when he introduced his list a week ago.
But Merrin insisted there’s daylight between the two plans.
“I think there’s some stark differences about the Republicans plans here in the House than what was presented,” Merrin argued.
He pointed to his backers’ support for the HJR 1, the new version of a measure to require constitutional amendments reach 60% to pass. The previous resolution died at the end of last session and Speaker Stephens ran out the clock on the sponsor’s attempts to get it on this May’s ballot.
“The House Republicans do not want abortion enshrined in the constitution,” Merrin argued.
Critics of the resolution insisted from the outset it was an attempt to stymie a future amendment protecting abortion. The sponsor, Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, initially argued the effort was about good governance rather than any particular partisan issue. In a letter to House colleagues in December, however, Stewart listed protecting Ohio’s abortion ban and preventing any further redistricting reform as the two primary reasons to support the resolution.
Regarding his priorities, Merrin said he wants to eliminate income taxes in Ohio.
“Number two,” Merrin went on, “we’re calling for the elimination of state income tax — that wasn’t done.”
Despite touting the same bills, Merrin suggested Stephen’s hasn’t made a “firm” commitment to the backpack bill model of “fund(ing) students and not necessarily systems.”
“We talked about energy, we talked about ethics reform,” Merrin added. “I think those are two issues that we’re addressing have not been addressed yet.”
Energy, ethics and taxes
On the energy front, Rep. Darrell Kick, R-Loudonville, argued for increased energy production.
“Every region of our state has a role to play in generating additional energy,” Kick said, “including state lands that must be leased responsibly to utilize all of our natural resources.”
Next week, the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission meets to go over new rules opening state lands to exploration. Late last session, lawmakers passed a bill that would effectively force such leases if the commission failed to establish a process.
In an all-timer of an understatement, Merrin acknowledged “Ohio’s ethics laws have been insufficient in discouraging recent scandals.” His House Bill 16 requires greater financial disclosure — including for lobbyists and PUCO board nominees and it prohibits officials serving on corporate boards.
Merrin’s flat tax cuts deeper than Stephens’ offering — going to 2.5% instead of 2.75%. Stephens said his proposal costs $1.2 billion, and Merrin said his costs $1.4 billion.
Merrin’s priorities do include an increase to the local government fund. But rather than softening the blow, that $250 million infusion means the income tax cuts pencil out about the same.
Still, Merrin argued that tax reduction wouldn’t require cutting services “because there is more than $1.4 billion of extra revenue,” from inflation and economic productivity. Merrin added that the state has $3 billion in the rainy-day fund and a $5 billion surplus in the general revenue fund.
“Ohioans have given the state government a massive surplus, ok? The state right now is flushed with cash,” Merrin said. “And we should have a savings account, we should be responsible. We should always have extra money on hand.”
But at the end of the day Merrin’s argument is remarkably simple:
“We do have the money.”
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.