Surplus tax revenue for FY23 now totals nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars after another over-estimate month for collections in February, according to preliminary data from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). February tax collections exceeded $2 billion versus expectations of $1.9 billion, an increase of $124.1 million or 6.5% over estimates. Sales taxes made up the bulk of the additional revenue, coming in $67.5 million or 7.8% ahead of expectations. The non-auto sales tax was up $54.1 million or 7.3% compared to the forecast, while the auto sales tax was up $13.3 million or 10.5%.
It has now been three years since the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reported three Ohioans tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time, though the ability to conduct testing was limited at that time and community spread was almost certainly occurring. Since then, ODH has reported 3.4 million cases, 138,145 hospitalizations, 15,039 ICU admissions and 41,802 deaths as of Thursday. Ohio's vaccination rates are 64.8% or 7.6 million started and 60.07% or 7.02 million completed, along with 3.98 million people who received first boosters and 1.79 million, second booster shots. There have been 1.81 million bivalent vaccinations in Ohio, representing 15.46% of the state population.
The state of Ohio had the nation's 12th highest increase in weekly jobless claims, according to financial advisory website WalletHub. New York's (ranked 1) jobless claims increased the most, while the District of Columbia's (51) increased the least. Among Ohio's (12) neighbors, Kentucky (2) had the highest increase in the past week, followed by Indiana (16), Pennsylvania (20), West Virginia (39) and Michigan (44). The Buckeye State performed better on the increase in jobless claims per 100,000 people in the labor force, coming in at 47.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Wednesday discussed his recently introduced legislation that would repeal two provisions in the Social Security Act to make sure public sector workers and their families receive their Social Security benefits. Brown reintroduced the Social Security Fairness Act with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). The bill would repeal the 1983 Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduces the Social Security benefits of workers who receive pensions from a federal, state or local government for employment not covered by Social Security; and the 1977 Government Pension Offset (GPO), which reduces Social Security spousal benefits for spouses, widows and widowers whose spouses receive pensions from a federal, state or local government, according to Brown's office. The two statutes significantly reduced benefits for nearly 3 million Americans, including 241,755 Ohioans, according to Brown's office, many of whom are teachers, police officers and state, county and local government workers.
Provisions addressing force account limits and rail safety added by the House to HB23 (Edwards), the transportation budget, drew testimony and questions in the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday. An increase to force accounts, the limits on projects that counties and townships have before they must be competitively bid out, have been requested by local governments for several sessions, including during the transportation budget debate in both chambers in this session. Before passing out HB23, the House added a floor amendment that replaces force account limits with scope of work limits for county engineers with regard to road, highway, bridge and culvert projects, thereby requiring competitive bidding when the size of the project exceeds the statutory parameters, but authorizing the county to do the work if the project is within those parameters. The amendment also specifies the parameters for work that may be conducted by a county without competitive bidding. Testifying in support of the change, Ohio Contractors Association President Chris Runyan said this concept for defining limitations is a "major paradigm shift from the current way of doing business," noting that the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) adopted something similar eight years ago. He said when the subjectivity of dollars is no longer in the equation for defining work limitation, factors such as inflation and force account assessment forms are no longer factors. He said the controversies related to defining caps through dollar amounts are now moot in favor of caps that are narrowly defined and easily auditable.
The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) announced Tuesday it was awarding $17.5 million to rehabilitate and restore eight historic buildings, expected to leverage approximately $118 million in private investment for those projects. The awards are part of the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program, and come in addition to $64.1 million awarded in December 2022. This brings the totals for the 29th round of the program to $81.69 million supporting 60 projects in 21 communities. The awards follow an evaluation of scoring procedures for the round based on language in 134-SB225 (Schuring).
The House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday heard a brief presentation from Matt Castor with USA Cares Veteran & Family Support System, a veterans service organization with chapters in Ohio and throughout the county. The nonprofit group, which was formed about 20 years ago, is focused on preventing veteran suicides, Castor said. While the organization initially focused on assisting returning veterans with visible injuries, such as a missing limb, the group has since pivoted to focusing on "those invisible injuries" such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He told committee members about 22 military members or veterans die by suicide every day.
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