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Dems Rap Turnpike Lease

Local Democratic officials from northeast Ohio who are opposed to Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to lease the Ohio Turnpike said last week they would launch their own study of the privatization plan.

Officials from five counties met in Youngstown last Friday for the first of a series of press conferences opposing the plan. They said it would lead to higher tolls, lower worker wages and the deterioration of local roads.

“The Ohio Turnpike is a tremendous asset; it is not an asset of the state of Ohio though to be bought and sold or leased,” Mahoning County Commissioner John McNally told local reporters.

Ohio in late November tapped KPMG LLP to act as lead advisor for the plan. The firm has until July to recommend the best way to wring cash from the Turnpike, one of the country’s largest toll roads and one with the highest ratings.

Options include a long-term lease, which Kasich has said he supports, placing it under Ohio Department of Transportation’s control, or leaving it alone.

The 241-mile turnpike is Ohio’s only toll road. It is operated by the double-A rated Ohio Turnpike Commission, which also sells debt for the road. It last sold new-money bonds in 2001.

Kasich has said that a 75-year lease could generate up to $2.4 billion. The state would need to use $600 million to pay outstanding bonds, which need to be defeased in the event of privatization.

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