Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Friday, 01 March 2013 10:41
Despite reservations about northern Ohioans getting stuck paying for roadwork elsewhere in the state, the Ohio House voted Thursday to approve a $1.5 billion Ohio Turnpike bond deal.
|File photo. This Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, photo shows a truck driving past a sign for the Ohio Turnpike near Streetsboro, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
As a county commissioner, Tim Brown was quite vocal in his objection to using any turnpike funds to pay for road improvements elsewhere in the state. Thursday, as a new state representative, Brown had his chance to lodge a vote against Gov. John Kasich's plan.
Brown, a fellow Republican, said he could not vote in favor of the governor's proposal to raise $1.5 billion through turnpike bonds. Most of the state representatives - from both political parties - along the turnpike corridor voted against the plan. But they lost, 58 to 36.
"The proposal would place debt on the turnpike that would require increases on the tolls every year for the next 30 years," Brown said Thursday night.
Not only would northern Ohioans be hit with higher tolls, there was also no guarantee in the proposal that most of the money would be used for road projects in the region of the turnpike. The northern legislators asked for such a provision, but didn't get it. They also asked that Kasich's promise be put in writing to freeze toll rates for a decade for motorists making trips of 30 miles or less on the turnpike. That provision was left out as well.
According to the Associated Press, the Kasich administration has said it will deliver on those promises, but placing precise spending targets in the law would limit flexibility.
The Associated Press reported that many local government and business leaders who initially backed Kasich's plan made it clear they were supportive because they thought the money would go back to northern Ohio and the toll freeze would be in place for local travelers.
"Putting that cost solely on northern Ohioans just seems unfair to me," Brown said.
Even if the legislation would have required the bulk of the proceeds be spent along the turnpike, Brown said he would have probably voted against it. He suspects that areas which benefited from the turnpike revenue would then lose out as Ohio Department of Transportation money was shifted elsewhere.
"Is it fair for Wood County and northern Ohio to pay to fix roads in the rest of the state?" he questioned.
Brown stressed that he is fully supportive of addressing state infrastructure needs - but only in a fair way.
"This wasn't in the best interest of the constituents I represent," he said.
The issue now goes to the Senate, which has started hearings on the measure.
State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, said this morning that he wants to review the amendments attempted in the House. He has a couple amendments in mind - such as provisions to protect against unnecessary toll increases, and assurances that Northwest Ohio will be treated fairly in the plan.
Gardner also worries if turnpike money is earmarked for northern Ohio, that gas tax money will all shift to the rest of the state - despite the fact that northern Ohioans pay gas tax.
"I am not for supplanting," he said. "This is not just a trade-off."
While Gardner is pleased Kasich didn't proceed with his original plan to lease or sell the turnpike, he wants to make sure the bond legislation works for his region of the state.
"I still have questions and concerns," he said. "I think there's a lot of work to do."
At the same time, Gardner also realizes the state faces some critical infrastructure needs that have to be funded somehow.
"Everybody says we need safer roads and bridges," he said. "I have not seen any other ideas to help pay for improving roads and bridges."