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A Recap of Governor DeWine’s Advisory Committee on Transportation Infrastructure

February 21, 2019
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On Wednesday, February 6 about 100 people packed a hearing room at the Rhodes Tower in Columbus for the second meeting of the Ohio Governor’s Advisory Council on Transportation Infrastructure. The council of 15 individuals, assmbled by Governor Mike DeWine in late January, met for the very first time the day before. The committee was tasked with making recommendations on how to fund transportation infrastructure in the State of Ohio. Recently, contractors and Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials have raised alarms about the lack of funding available not just for new projects, but even for maintenance of existing roads and bridges.

 The committee was tasked with making recommendations on how to fund transportation infrastructure in the State of Ohio.

At the first meeting of the committee, members heard testimony from DeWine administration officials. The committee was expected to make recommendations in mid-February. On the first day of testimony, members heard from administration officials, including Jack Marchbanks, Ph.D., the new Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation. He used terms such as “impending crisis,” “fiscal cliff” and “perfect storm” to describe the state of Ohio’s public infrastructure. According to ODOT testimony before the committee, the agency projects a $1 billion annual revenue hole each year for the next 11 years. The $1 billion figure comes from $500 million for maintenance projects, $250 million for safety projects and $250 million for new, major projects.

 According to ODOT testimony before the committee, the agency projects a $1 billion annual revenue hole each year for the next 11 years.

The committee held its second meeting the next day to hear public comment on the issue. At that committee meeting, approximately 20 people presented public comment. Of those 20, many were supportive of increased spending to fix roads, bridges and public transportation. Those who gave testimony included mayors, law enforcement officials from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, lobbyists for the Ohio Contractors Association, and grassroots advocates. The content of the testimony varied widely: some described raising the gas tax as the most efficient method of raising revenue (because it is something already in place), while others described the financial strain on local governments and their inability to keep up with infrastructure maintenance due to more people living farther outside of municipal boundaries. Other testimony included the importance of public transportation and the need to include it in any funding formula changes. After two hours of public comment opened the hearing, the committee heard 45 minutes of additional testimony from Marchbanks.

 Some described raising the gas tax as the most efficient method of raising revenue, while others described the financial strain on local governments and their inability to keep up with infrastructure maintenance due to more people living farther outside of municipal boundaries.

After recessing for lunch, the committee reconvened and voted to publically support a preliminary recommendation to DeWine to increase the gas tax. On Friday, February 15 the committee released its final report to DeWine. In the report, the committee describes that members fully endorse an increase of the gas tax. They also included other suggestions in the report, but appears that they did not generate the unanimous recommendation as the gas tax increase did. The report does mention that the committee believes public transportation is an important part of economic and community development, though it does not make any funding recommendations on how to support public transit. Currently, the gas tax is prohibited by the Ohio Constitution from being spent on public transportation.[1]  

It will be interesting to see the next steps. The governor will release the first draft of the transportation budget in the coming days. It will be deliberated by the House, before moving to the Senate and then ultimately going to DeWine. The transportation budget must be passed by March 31st. It remains to be seen if other funding proposals or suggestions on improving the state’s transportation infrastructure will be taken into consideration in the transportation budget, or the state budget, to be released in the spring.

 It remains to be seen if other funding proposals or suggestions on improving the state’s transportation infrastructure will be taken into consideration in the transportation budget, or the state budget, to be released in the spring.

Given its enormous impact on the wellbeing of health and human services across the state, The Center for Community Solutions will continue to monitor these proposals in the coming weeks, for consideration in either the transportation bill or general operating state budget.  

[1] https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/laws/ohio-constitution/section?const=12.05a

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