Officials, including Portage commissioner Kathleen Chandler, voice Turnpike proposal concerns

By Marc Kovac | R-C Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- County commissioners from northern Ohio voiced concern Tuesday about Gov. John Kasich's plans to use the state's lone toll road to leverage billions of dollars for road and bridge projects.

Lorain County Commissioner Ted Kalo and others, representing counties from the Indiana border to the Pennsylvania border, want guarantees added to legislation to ensure most of the proceeds will be used north of U.S. 30 and that local commuters won't be subject to toll hikes.

"We were assured that the turnpike was not going to be sold; the workers would not be laid off; and most crucially, the proceeds from any debt issued would be kept where the tolls were paid, in northern Ohio," Kalo said. "In fact we were explicitly promised during the governor's tour and in multiple press releases from the Ohio Department of Transportation that more than 90 percent of any bond proceeds would be kept in northern Ohio, devoted to our highway and bridge projects."

He added, "If this legislation is passed without directing the distribution of proceeds, then there will be no way to ensure that promises are kept after the money will changes hands."

Kalo offered the comments before the Ohio House's finance committee Tuesday. The lawmaker panel is considering separate legislation that would implement the administration's turnpike proposal. Kalo's testimony was co-signed by Kathleen Chandler, a former state lawmaker and current Portage County commissioner.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan also voiced concern, saying the turnpike is a major boost to northern Ohio's economy.

"The Ohio Turnpike has been a powerful engine of development for northern Ohio which the governor's plan now jeopardizes," he said.

Under Kasich's plan, the state would borrow about $1.5 billion, via bonding against future tolls, and hope to leverage another $1.5 billion in local and federal funding.

The administration has said that more than 90 percent of new bond money would go to roadwork in the northern third of the state.

But no specific language ensuring those outcomes was included in the state transportation budget or the spinoff legislation containing the provisions.

Administration officials have said including specific percentages in the plan could hinder road and bridge repairs.

"If someone limits themselves to spending 5 percent of their paycheck on food, what happens if they run out of food before the next payday?" Steve Faulkner, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said. "Do they starve to death? It's the same concept here. If 90 percent of the bonded turnpike money is spent, what happens if a project is not yet complete? Do we just throw up our hands and say, 'Well, the legislation is clear, our hands are tied,' and leave a section of a highway incomplete?"

"At the same time," he said, "what happens if all projects needed in northern Ohio are complete but we've only spent 89 percent of the bonded turnpike money? Do we find frivolous things to unnecessarily spend money on and waste precious resources we could use elsewhere?"

He added, "The point is we have transportation needs in communities with a nexus to the turnpike and we are going to build those projects sooner using as much bonded turnpike money as we can."

But Democratic lawmakers say that amounts to a "broken promise" from the governor, with no guarantees that money generated from the turnpike will be used to improve the northern Ohio toll road.

"This is a northern Ohio-funded turnpike, and there is no guarantee in the legislation that the money would be directed to northern Ohio," Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent, said during a conference call with reporters earlier this week.

Kalo echoed those concerns in his testimony Tuesday, questioning whether state officials would shift general revenue funding as part of a budgetary "shell game."

"We've already seen it with the state lottery and K-12 education funding," he said. "Whenever the lottery increases substantially, it's not treated as a gain, it's simply used as an opportunity to contribute less from the general fund, so that overall K-12 funding doesn't increase any faster than it was growing already."

He added, "Something needs to stop the same from happening to northern Ohio's transportation funding. We may indeed be given 90 percent of the proceeds, but if ODOT reduces our other sources of funding, it could render the turnpike proceeds moot."

The turnpike legislation is slated for amendments and a potential committee vote this week, with a floor vote possible this week or next.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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  • Billy says, "REst of democrats are just ranting and raving as they always do." Get real Billy, nothing but conservative whining going on in all these RC posts. And it's the same whiny cons time after time, redlegs, dowhat, factualinfo, are all constantly on here whining about everything. How about you cons keep your mouths shut for awhile and let the country work at uniting. We (the majority of Americans) are tired of the conservative propaganda, it is not working, don't you get that? Obviously not!

  • tim ryan should keep his mouth shut. he has no business in Ohio government. tim represents the uAW and himself. REst of democrats are just ranting and raving as they always do.

  • The "more than 90%" figure that was put out by the governor and his administration was not a promise that has now been broken. It was a flat out lie. Calling it a broken promise leads one to believe that he originally intended on following through with it but now can't. There was never any intent to include that language in the bill. This is just another back door tax from the governor. Look up the history of the turnpike and the original plan. Tolls would be paid until it had paid for itself and then the highway would be toll-free and repairs covered by normal state taxing. Never happened. Actually the tolls have continued to rise. If the money is used, under the governor's plan, to pay for road and bridge repair across the entire state, something will have to give. First, the tolls will again go up to where it will be too costly for most to use. It now costs anywhere from $16.50 to $83.00 to drive across the state on the turnpike, depending on what you are driving. Below was copied from the turnpike website: "Q. Why do I have to pay a toll to use the Ohio Turnpike when I already pay taxes? A. The maintenance, operation and security of the Ohio Turnpike are funded almost exclusively through tolls - NOT TAXES. Your taxes pay for other roads and interstates, not the Turnpike. The Ohio Turnpike receives NO federal funding and only a small portion of state tax ($. 05 per gallon from gasoline purchased ONLY at service stations on the Turnpike.) (Note: The small portion of state tax money received by the Turnpike Commission is specifically allocated to the maintenance and repairs of the bridges and overpasses that are state routes.) Turnpike tolls serve as a user fee and only those who use the Turnpike pay for it." So if turnpike tolls are spent elsewhere, it doesn't take much to figure out the end results. Ms. Chandler, Ms. Clyde, and Mr. Ryan, keep screaming even when they tell you to stop. The governor is trying to implement quick fixes and hoping that not many will see behind the curtain.