The good news is that John Kasich, governor of Ohio (R), has dropped the idea of leasing the Ohio Turnpike.
The bad news is, turnpike drivers get cheated, again.
Originally, toll collection was supposed to stop in the late 1980s once the original construction bonds were paid. But the state legislature broke the promise and voted to keep collecting the tolls.
That riled northern Ohioans who drive the turnpike, but at least the revenue stayed with the turnpike.
Now Kasich wants to break another promise to northern Ohio citizens. He wants to take turnpike revenue, sells bonds against it, and spend “more than 90% of the money” on infrastructure projects (including the turnpike) in northern Ohio, which state officials roughly defined as “north of U.S. 30.”
First of all, turnpike revenue, by law, is supposed to be spent on or within one mile of the turnpike. U.S. 30 is south of Findlay and can be as far as 50 miles south of the turnpike.
He expects the state legislature to change the law in February, but he would “prefer that the legislation was passed yesterday,” he said.
Second, how much of the 90% will be spent on the turnpike? It could be as little as 1%, according to that statement. Or even less.
Third, the Ohio Turnpike Commission still has almost $500 million of its own bonds outstanding. Why not get them paid off before accruing more debt?
Fourth, now the Ohio Department of Transportation can take the gas taxes all Ohioans pay for infrastructure improvement and spend them and the federal funds in the southern part of the state.
The Jobs and Transportation Plan “frees up ODOT to spend the state’s gas tax and federal funds on highways downstate…” said a Kasich administration fact sheet.
So northern Ohioans still have to pay tolls to drive the turnpike, and pay gas taxes the administration will funnel to southern Ohio. This newspaper has said it before– that’s just not right.
Some state legislators are finally questioning how that idea is fair.
“I didn’t know that anyone contemplated that (funneling gas taxes to southern Ohio) as a consequence of turnpike reform,” said Randy Gardner, state representative (RBowling Green) in comments made to the Toledo Blade.
This newspaper contemplated it repeatedly in editorials, Mr. Gardner.
“You think I want an extra tax on me to pay for projects outside of my area?” Rex Damschroder, state representative (R-Fremont) asked in the Blade.
Once again, it is a question this newspaper has asked.
“Leaders have to lead,” Kasich said. When the legislature meets in 2013, hopefully Republican legislators will lead and won’t rubberstamp the proposals of our governor.
This newspaper has said it before and will say it again.
If ODOT needs more money for infrastructure improvements, the gas tax should be raised a penny or two per gallon so that everyone across the state pays his fair share.
The government needs to keep its promises. Turnpike tolls should continue to pay for improvements on the turnpike, not roads 50 miles away.