CHICAGO - The Ohio Senate this week is expected to vote on Gov. Ted Strickland's $1.57 billion, largely bond-funded plan to boost the state's sagging economy after the House overwhelmingly passed the measure late last week.

The Republican-controlled House passed the measure 88 to 9. The bill closely follows the Democratic governor's original proposal, but slashes in half a contentious proposal to use Ohio Turnpike revenues to pay for $200 million of bonds to finance a series of highway and bridge projects across the state.

Under the House version, turnpike revenues would back $100 million of bonds that would finance projects only in the northern part of the state, where the turnpike is located. Another $100 million would come from revenues generated from hotel, restaurant, and gas station advertising on state-owned billboards near highway exits.

The compromise came under pressure from northern Ohio representatives, who said the proposal to fund statewide projects would put too much pressure on the turnpike.

"We need to do all we can to prevent any pressure on raising tolls," Rep. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, was quoted as saying in local media reports. "This cuts in half that pressure."

The House also approved a measure to put a $400 million bond issue on the Nov. 4 ballot. Proceeds from the bonds would replenish the Clean Ohio fund and finance cleanups at abandoned industrial sites, among other projects.

The $1.57 billion economic stimulus plan also calls for issuing $120 million of public works funding bonds and $66 million to fund coal research and development. The state would also issue $184 million in liquor-profit backed revenue bonds. Ohio has a monopoly on liquor sales.

In addition to borrowing, the plan is funded with cash, future state revenues, and $230 million from the Tobacco Prevention Fund. Access to the tobacco fund money is currently blocked, as the fund's members have taken the state to court to try to overturn the legislation authorizing the move. State officials have said they expected a legal challenge and that under the governor's proposal, the $230 million from the fund would not be spent until 2010 to allow time for the issue to be settled.

Proponents say the package will create up to 57,000 new jobs across the state, many in the biomedical and renewable energy fields. Ohio is dealing with a soft economy and lower-than-expected revenues, which could leave a deficit between $750 million and $1.9 billion in the current budget, according to state fiscal analysts.

 

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