CHICAGO — An Ohio attorney has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's use of Ohio Turnpike toll revenue to finance non-turnpike related transportation projects.
The use of toll revenues to pay for highway projects not related to the turnpike is a violation of the state and federal constitution, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney James DeRoche, who works at a law firm run by the chairman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, according to Cleveland.com.
The suit, filed on behalf of resident and turnpike driver Melissa Ullmo, argues that the use of toll revenue for non-turnpike projects is a "gimmick designed to avoid increasing taxes of general application."
The lawsuit says the toll increases imposed after January 2014 violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, right to travel under the Constitution and the equal protection guarantee. The lawsuit seeks to stop the state from collecting the excess toll revenue used to finance other projects and to repay drivers who have paid the increased tolls.
The toll increase was "imposed for the benefit of $930 million in non-turnpike expenditures, which will not benefit plaintiff or other turnpike users," the lawsuit says.
The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission floated $1.1 billion of turnpike revenue-backed bonds in 2013. Pushed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, the new credit was an effort to plug a shortfall in road funding. Kasich had considered privatizing the toll road, but ending up crafting a new credit pledge with a junior-lien trust agreement that allows the commission to issue bonds against future toll revenue projections. Proceeds on senior-lien bonds are restricted to projects on the 241-mile turnpike itself.
As part of the deal, the commission approved a series of toll rate increases that raise rates by 2.7% every year for the next 10 years.
The lawsuit will be heard by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster. The lawsuit, Melissa Ullmo v. Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission, is case number CV15842397.