State transportation budget at tipping point

Posted Feb. 6, 2019 by

This week as the dust settles and new leadership takes over at the Ohio Statehouse, one test for new lawmakers and the new governor will be how they address an apparent deep hole in the revenue for Ohio’s Transportation budget. Some are even calling it a crisis.

The Transportation budget, which funds Ohio’s infrastructure projects, like highways and bridges, is considered separately from the rest of state agency budgets since it’s funded through gas taxes, both state and federal, not through general revenue.

The previous administration had spent upwards of $16 billion on expanded highway projects and other transportation needs over the last eight years, borrowing money against Ohio Turnpike tolls. But that money has all but dried up and revenues from gas taxes have sunk, in part due to the emergence of alternative fuel vehicles.

For these reasons, a major hole in funding for future infrastructure projects is causing “alarm” among lawmakers and the governor’s office. The state’s two year budget has zero money for new highway projects.

A task force has been created to look at how additional transportation revenues could be generated, perhaps with an increased state gas tax or a “use” tax. Ohio’s gas tax, which is lower than surrounding states, has not increased since 2005. Others are proposing an alternative fuel tax for electric vehicles and others that use alternative fuel, such as natural gas.

Additional discussions are taking place about how the gas tax is distributed among counties. Currently counties with large populations receive less state gas tax revenue than smaller counties, with smaller populations. Some want to see that change.

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers, interest groups and the governor can come up with a solution to the problem. But with 30 percent of Ohio’s roadways in poor or mediocre condition, the time for solutions is now.

Read more: ODOT director stresses Ohio facing road funding crisis without new revenue (Columbus Dispatch)