In a pleasant surprise for rural Ohio, the biennial budget was agreed to Monday with Gov. Mike DeWine’s full $250 million funding request for rural broadband expansion.
Just days ago, the Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Matt Dolan announced rural broadband funding was being cut from the budget to pay for an income tax cut that would net most Ohio taxpayers around $57 per year. The Ohio Farmers Union and others contacted legislative leaders in the Ohio House and Senate and asked that at a minimum, the House’s funding line of $90 million for rural broadband be reinstated.
Instead, the five percent tax cut became a 3 percent tax cut – and who knows what else occurred behind those closed doors – and Gov. DeWine’s initial request for $250 million was put in the budget.
OFU made the point to legislators that there have been broadband expansion plans on the books for years — beginning in the Taft and Strickland administrations — and DeWine updated the state’s strategy in the fall of 2019. Additionally, the USDA is still in the midst of rewarding hundreds of millions in rural broadband grants and Ohio’s latest strategy is designed to meet the criteria for USDA funding.
Additionally, GOP legislators tried to insert in the budget a provision disallowing municipalities or other government entities from participating in cooperative efforts to move broadband internet connectivity further into the countryside. This provision was abandoned in the final bill. It’s not clear who requested the language or why, but it would obviously the telecommunications industry dominated by mega corps like AT&T, Verizon, Spectrum and others.