State budget negotiations focus for Gentile talk

STEUBENVILLE – State Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, was guest speaker during the city’s Rotary Club’s Friday luncheon meeting at the city YWCA.

Gentile told Rotarians the state senate and house currently were debating and discussing the mid-biennium budget in Columbus, which he said was a 1,600-page document.

He said there were several important matters being debated in the document that related to Jefferson and surrounding counties. Gentile also said even though this was an election year “we’re still doing a lot of work for the people of Ohio.”

One aspect of the budget that concerned him was a proposed cut in income tax for Ohio residents, which he said would be offset by an increase in business-related taxes, including a severance tax on new oil and gas drilling.

“This is monumental for us here,” said Gentile, adding there were differing statistics on how much this would raise for the state. “The oil and gas industry represents a real opportunity for us here. There’s been quite a lot of debate on this in Ohio.”

Gentile said he was concerned the state government wouldn’t return a “fair share” of tax monies generated from any severance tax returned to counties that were producing the oil and gas revenue.

“I’ve been making the case to to get more of that (projected severance tax) revenue,” said the senator, adding other areas of the state have in the past profited at the expense of projects in other counties.

Gentile said any revenue returned to this area in the form of a severance tax could be used for local infrastructure and development. Gentile also gave Gov. John Kasich credit for proposing the tax despite opposition from some in his own party.

“In the long run how this gets settled will affect us for years to come,” he said, adding he opposed a cut in income taxes at the current moment because “Those making $200,000 and more will see more of that income tax cut. I do sense this has a long way to go.”

He added the state currently has a $2 billion surplus.

Gentile said he didn’t believe raising business-related taxes should subsidize any income tax cuts. He also said he was skeptical the bill in its current form would make it through the house and senate because “I don’t believe the governor has enough support in his own party for any kind of tax increase.”

Gentile also said he’d studied how Pennsylvania distributes income tax revenue generated through oil and shale gas exploitation, and he believed it was a good model.

Gentile also briefly discussed how he was helping with legislation for veterans to earn academic credits for life skills learned as well as job placement. Gentile added was gathering allies for the bill.

“I’m grateful the bill we have is bi-partisan,” said Gentile.

The senator also said he’s disappointed in the way the state funds its public education system, and recent changes were going to make it harder on local school districts to pass levies.

“I appreciate the opportunity to serve you in Columbus,” he added.