Legislative Update: State Budget, Ohio Traffic Safety Council, FirstEnergy Bribery

Legislative Update: State Budget, Ohio Traffic Safety Council, FirstEnergy Bribery
Wayne Lawrence

Wayne Lawrence, Weiss Movers

*This content is curated by WHACC Board Member Wayne Lawrence, President of Weiss Movers & Storage, and originally provided by the Ohio Trucking Association.

As expected, Ohio ended the most recent fiscal year with $1.5 billion more in tax revenue than analysts originally expected, but on par with recent revisions provided to lawmakers as they put the finishing touches on the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 state operating budget. Tax receipts exceeded estimates in June by over $350 million, or 16.9%. The higher than expected revenues were caused by a variety of factors, including significant sales tax revenues due to changing consumer behavior and federal pandemic stimulus efforts, according to Office of Budget and Management Director Kimberly Murnieks. State spending was also lower than expected in Fiscal Year 2021, as costs did not surge as much as budget analysts anticipated. Total state spending was more than $780 million below estimates. The cause of this was mainly due to Medicaid enrollment, which was estimated to significantly increase during the pandemic but never hit the levels analysts expected last fiscal year.

The Ohio Traffic Safety Council voted this month to support HB 283, the legislation banning the use of mobile devices while driving, which is currently pending before the House Criminal Justice Committee. Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Tom Stickrath and ODOT Assistant Director Lloyd MacAdam presented during the panel’s most recent hearing. MacAdam said, “with every year we don’t pass this law, more Ohioans become comfortable with those electronic devices while driving, which endangers us all.” The transportation budget (HB 74) initially contained language making distracted driving a primary offense statewide before House lawmakers removed the provision. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has expressed skepticism about creating a new primary traffic offense, arguing it could be used to improperly generate revenue for local police departments and might increase friction between law enforcement agencies and local communities.

The U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of Ohio recently announced that Akron-based FirstEnergy will pay a $230 million fine for bribing key Ohio officials in an effort to pass the $1 billion ratepayer-funded bailout for two nuclear plants. The charges come nearly one year to the day that former House Speaker Larry Householder was arrested for his role in the $60 million scandal. The fine is one of the largest criminal penalties ever collected, surpassing the $200 million penalty imposed on Illinois’ ComEd in 2020. The agreement with FirstEnergy details how the company bought key Ohio public officials – notably former Speaker Householder and former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo. The fine will be split 50-50 between federal and state governments. Ohio’s $115 million will go toward a program that helps Ohioans pay their utility bills.

Two House Democrats held a press conference this week urging Governor DeWine to fire a pair of administrative officials tied to FirstEnergy’s admission that it sought to bribe former Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) Chairman Sam Randazzo. Laurel Dawson was chief of staff for Governor DeWine when his office appointed Randazzo to the PUCO. That was just weeks after Randazzo received a $4.3 million payment from FirstEnergy. DeWine’s legislative director Dan McCarthy was a registered lobbyist for FirstEnergy before joining the administration and served as president of the 501(c)(4) Partners for Progress, which the company now admitted was controlled by former FirstEnergy executives, who used it to pay entities associated with public officials. McCarthy has denied knowledge of any illegal activity. DeWine dismissed the request for terminations, saying: “I have confidence in the people who work for me and that’s really about it.”

About Wayne Lawrence

Wayne Lawrence is Vice-President of Weiss Movers and Storage. Wayne is WHACC's Board Chair and on the Advocacy committee. *This content is curated by Wayne Lawrence, President of Weiss Movers & Storage, with permission by the Ohio Trucking Association.