Ohio governor argues case for a gas tax hike
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says his proposed 18-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase is the bare minimum the state needs to spend to keep roads and bridges in working order.
“At this point in Ohio’s history it is time for us to invest in Ohio,” the new governor, a Republican, said in his State of the State address Tuesday. “It is time for us to invest in our children, in our workers, in our roads and bridges, infrastructure, our Lake Erie and state parks. Simply put it is time for us to invest in our future.”
DeWine faces pushback on the gas tax hike from leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature who want to trim the size of the increase.
A substitute plan presented late Tuesday by House Finance Chairman Scott Oelslager, R-Canton, would raise the gasoline tax by 10.7 cents a gallon, and the tax on diesel by 20 cents a gallon.
The hikes would be phased in over three years under Oelslager's plan. Gasoline prices would increase 5 cents this year, 3 cents in 2020, and 2.7 cents in 2021.
The diesel increase would also be phased in. The full tax increases would generate $872 million annually. Oelslager's gas tax increase would not be indexed to inflation going forward, as proposed under DeWine’s plans.
Tax revenue would be split 60/40 with ODOT receiving $523 million and local governments receiving $349 million.
DeWine said the House proposal isn't enough, but "it's a process.”
“This is the beginning,” he said. “We have a long way to go."
DeWine unveiled the tax hike as part of his transportation budget in February and argues anything less would mean either roads won’t be kept up of new projects won’t get done.
“The money that the state has borrowed has now been spent and now that it is gone we are headed into a very dangerous point,” DeWine said. “We are about to see a dramatic reduction in quality of the roads in this state. “
If approved as the governor proposes, the increase would kick in by July 1 and would raise an estimated $1.2 billion a year to rebuild the state’s roads. The gas tax in Ohio is currently 28 cents per gallon and has not changed since 2005.
The Department of Transportation had said it faced a funding shortfall of about $1 billion on average over the next 11 years. DeWine said that ODOT also faces paying off a record amount of outstanding debt now at $4 billion and will pay $390 million in debt service this coming year.
DeWine also laid out plans for increased spending on public health programs, addiction treatment and early-childhood education but did not say how he will pay for these proposals. He proposed a new public health fund to raise awareness, prevention and treatment and wants to create a new center to help local law enforcement. He also proposed a new fund called H2 Ohio to ensure safe and clean water across the state.
"My friends, we cannot continue to lurch from water crisis to water crisis,” said DeWine. “This fund will give us the ability to plan and develop long-term solutions."
“I was pleased to see Governor DeWine affirm his commitment to cleaning up Lake Erie, and I am hopeful we will see renewed interest in addressing environmental health across Ohio,” said state Rep. Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson. “Ohio currently ranks 40th in overall health, 46th in air pollution, and the Cleveland-Akron area ranks 9th in air pollution nationally. We must work together to ensure all of our children have access to the clean air and clean water they deserve.”
“I appreciate Governor DeWine’s speech highlighting several areas of concern within our great state. However, I was disappointed at the lack of attention paid to school funding,” said state Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park. “As Ohio ranks 41st in education, the governor should have put a brighter spotlight on this issue. Education is our greatest equalizer, and as we work to improve the life of Ohioans, education must be adequately funded.”