DALLAS – Ohio Gov. John Kasich is considering a $7.8 billion, two-year transportation budget passed by lawmakers last week as an Indiana state Senate panel gave their assent to a plan for tolling interstate highways that would bring in billions of dollars for highway maintenance and construction.
The Ohio House and Senate on Wednesday adopted a conference committee's compromise to House Bill 26 that would provide $7.82 billion in fiscal 2018 and 2019 to the Ohio Department of Transportation, the state police, and two other agencies.
The total includes $3.3 billion for ODOT in 2018 and $3.2 billion in 2019, with $5.6 billion over two years dedicated to construction and maintenance projects. The annual totals are down from the $3.4 billion allocated in fiscal 2017.
Kasich could use his line-item veto power to remove portions of the bill that he finds objectionable.
Ohio has not raised its state gasoline tax of 28 cents per gallon since 2005, but Senate President Larry Obhof, a Republican from Medina, said lawmakers would take a look at ways to increase transportation funding as vehicle fuel efficiencies improve.
The budget bill would provide $33 million per year to Ohio's 61 public transit systems, an increase of $10 million per year from current funding. The final compromise bill did not include Senate-approved provisions that allocated $48 million for local road and bridge projects and an additional $30 million for public transit.
Counties would be allowed to add a $5 surcharge to vehicle registration fees in addition to the current $20 per vehicle fee. The higher fee imposed by a county would be subject to a voter referendum.
Lawmakers will look for other ways to boost local transportation funding, Obhof said after the vote in the Senate.
"The Senate did support increasing funds specifically to local governments," he said. "I think we're sensitive to the needs of our local governments, but there's always a give and take when you get into the conference committee process."
In Indiana, the state Senate is considering an amended House bill that would allow the governor to put tolls on interstate highways with federal approval and raise the state gasoline tax by 10 cents.
The Indiana Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy last week amended House Bill 1002 to phase in the gasoline tax hike over two years instead of all at once and reduced a proposed increase in the diesel tax to six cents rather than the 10 cents in the House bill.
The transportation bill was adopted by the Indiana House in early February.
The anticipated tolls would probably be five cents per mile for passenger vehicles and up to 15 cents per mile for commercial trucks.
When fully implemented, the higher fuel taxes and the interstate tolls would generate $1.2 billion per year of new money for transportation.
Tolls on I-65 and I-70 would bring in an additional $365 million per year, said state Rep. Ed Soliday, a Republican from Valparaiso who is the main sponsor of the road measure.
"A large portion of traffic on those roads are non-Hoosier trucks that are not stopping in our state for so much as a Snickers bar," said Soliday.
Interstate tolls are a more sustainable revenue source than the state's fuel taxes, now at 28 cents per gallon for gasoline and 22 cents per gallon of diesel, said state Sen. Luke Kenley, a Republic from Noblesville who is a long-time advocate of highway tolling.
"It may not be the solution for today, but for the long term, I don't think you're going to realistically be able to deal with this problem without taking that [tolling] path," Kenley said.