Amstutz To Chair House Finance Panel; Carey Named Vice Chair
New House Finance Chairman Plans 'Methodical' Budget Review Process, Night Subcommittees
Speaker-elect Bill Batchelder has tapped a familiar face to lead the new majority's efforts on the budget and other state financial matters in the 129th General Assembly: Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), the current ranking minority member of the House Finance & Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Amstutz, a 28-year veteran of the legislature having served in both chambers, was named Thursday to chair the finance panel next session. Term-limited Sen. John Carey (R-Wellston), the current Senate Finance chairman who won election this month to his old 87th House District seat, will serve as vice chairman.
Majority Senate Republicans won't announce committee chairs until after the leadership vote later this month, however names that have been mentioned for Senate Finance chair include Sen. Chris Widener (R-Springfield) and Sen. Shannon Jones (R-Springboro).
The House, per standard procedure, gets first crack at the governor's budget, which under a new regime is due to the legislature by March 15.
Rep. Amstutz said in an interview Friday that his schedule for reviewing the budget would entail plenty of time for public scrutiny, including night subcommittee hearings.
"Every person is sort of unique in how they like to do things but I expect to have a rather methodical process that will give opportunities for input both at the committee level and the subcommittee level," he said. "That's not radically different than what we've had."
As for the nighttime subcommittees, Rep. Amstutz added, "There needs to be some of those for two reasons. Some of the topics need to have some of those folks who work during the day to have input, for one. Number two, the workload is going to be such that we're going to have to have some night hearings."
Rep. Amstutz said he would be looking at some changes to conference committee procedures, which this session entailed the adoption of a single amendment that included all of the agreed-to changes.
"We won't be having the same process as we had the last time," he said. "It needs to be some kind of understandable methodology. It doesn't have to be the old process exactly if we can employ something new."
"It was hard to follow - that volume in that compressed time frame - what was actually happening," the lawmaker added.
Rep. Batchelder said in announcing Messrs. Amstutz and Carey's posts, "While Ohio is faced with such a steep opportunity to correct our financial woes, it is reassuring to know that two talented individuals will lead an earnest process and thorough fiscal examination of Ohio's budget."
Sen. Carey said he was honored to serve in his new capacity with Rep. Amstutz, who he described as a "mentor" during his time in the legislature. "Together, we will seek input from all stakeholders, review and thoroughly revitalize our state's fiscal situation," he said. "The opportunity afforded to us will not be squandered."
Republicans' handling of the budget will be under the microscope more so than usual. While in the minority the party was extremely vocal in opposing the current spending plan because it relied on some $8 billion in one-time accounting moves and did not include major government restructuring as proposed by the House GOP.
Rep. Amstutz acknowledged the "unusually daunting challenge" ahead, but also spoke highly of the caucus finance staff, which will be led by Finance Director Dan Baker.
Regarding the House's current package of government reforms, Rep. Amstutz said, "I would expect there will be a lot of refinement on that. They never got a lot of substantive hearings."
Among the GOP proposals blocked by Democrats this session was a plan to reorganize state government (HB 25 [*] ), which supporters claim would save $1 billion. Virtually the entire House Republican caucus is a co-sponsor of the measure.
"Frankly, the lead on that kind of thing is going to come from the governor, but as you can tell from that bill there is a lot of interest in that in our caucus," Rep. Amstutz said.