CHICAGO - Ohio lawmakers were poised to vote late yesterday on a $9.6 billion, two-year state transportation budget that would include a new bond program as well as expanded authority for the state to enter into public-private partnerships to raise revenue.
Legislators were expected to approve the final budget yesterday and send it to Gov. Ted Strickland to sign into law by midnight, as required by state late. Bipartisan negotiations stalled yesterday morning over the use of federal stimulus funds to subsidize extended health care benefits for unemployed workers.
The $9.6 billion budget includes $1.9 billion in federal stimulus money.
Under the proposed budget, the state would launch a new bond program backed by new toll revenues. Ohio currently operates only one toll road, the 241-mile Ohio Turnpike that runs along the northern part of the state. The turnpike is operated by the Ohio Turnpike Commission, which is the only state body with the authority to toll.
Under the new plan, the Ohio Department of Transportation would be allowed to toll as a way to generate revenue for new infrastructure projects across the state. The proposal would allow ODOT to issue bonds backed by toll revenue to finance new projects. Locally, the department would be able to partner with any local government to form a so-called Transportation Innovation Authority to finance new local projects.
Tolling would only be allowed on new projects - existing roads would not be allowed to add tollbooths, according to state transportation officials.
A separate revenue-generating measure included in the transportation budget would allow state and local governments to enter into public-private partnerships. Proposals under consideration include allowing private companies to operate rest stops or set up solar or wind-generating equipment along state-owned roads, according to transportation officials.
In conference committee over the weekend, the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House approved a key piece of the budget, a $250 million proposal to build a passenger rail service connecting Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland.
Strickland, a Democrat, has strongly supported the commuter proposal, which is expected to be paid for with federal stimulus funds. The service is expected to cost $10 million a year to run and would generate up to 6,000 new construction jobs and 10,000 related positions, according to Strickland's office.
The budget includes another $800 million in federal stimulus funds that would finance roads, bridges, ports, and rail projects across the state.
Senate Republicans removed a number of revenue-generating proposals from Strickland's original plan, including some fee increases, speed cameras, and the ability to pull over and ticket drivers who are not wearing their seat belts.