COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine will announce Thursday his proposed recommendation for increasing the state gas tax to address a chronic shortfall in spending on road renovations, the governor said at an annual forum sponsored by The Associated Press.
DeWine, a Republican, said there are no other solutions outside a gas tax increase, while warning that any increase simply keeps Ohio from falling behind. He wouldn't provide details or say what the proposed increase would be.
"This is only status quo," DeWine said. "It is just to keep us where we are today and with the ability to do some safety projects that absolutely need to be done."
Ohio's road maintenance and infrastructure are facing an "impending crisis" unless more funding is provided for those types of projects, Jack Marchbanks, Ohio Department of Transportation director, said earlier this year.
Contracts for road maintenance that totaled $2.4 billion in 2014 may drop to $1.5 billion in 2020, and a $1 billion gap remains in the department budget, Marchbanks said.
DeWine also stood by his decision earlier this year to postpone an Ohio execution because of a federal judge's ruling that inmates could suffer severe pain under the state's current lethal injection method.
He has ordered the state prisons system to come up with a new three-drug method, and acknowledged that that system —whatever it is — will then face court challenges.
DeWine, Ohio's four statewide elected officials, and leaders of the House and Senate gathered Tuesday at the annual AP event.
Earlier Tuesday, GOP Attorney General David Yost said Ohio was not approached to join a new lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Yost was joined by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Treasurer Robert Sprague and Auditor Keith Faber. All are Republicans.
The statewide elected officials all say they support Trump, but don't agree with him on every issue. LaRose called Trump's characterization of the media as the enemy of the people as "dangerous."
During an afternoon session, state GOP chairwoman Jane Timken said she believes Ohio will remain a battleground state, despite recent solid Republican sweeps. Democratic chairman David Pepper, answering a question about brain drain, said investments in urban areas to create "really attractive cities" are key to retaining and attracting young people.
Also Tuesday, House Speaker Larry Householder and Senate President Larry Obhof, both Republicans, and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes and Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, both Democrats, discussed legislative priorities for the year.
The lawmakers agreed that additional spending is needed to deal with problems with the condition of Ohio roads, including potholes on thoroughfares across the state. They disagreed about whether a gas tax was the best approach. Householder said he wants to study infrastructure needs first and wait on considering a tax. Yuko said Ohioans are already spending thousands of dollars repairing cars instead of roads.
The legislative leaders also:
- Backed the general idea of changes to the criminal justice system as Ohio struggles with overcrowded prisons. Obhof said he wants to see the prison population reduced. Sykes, who is black, said she's concerned about the overrepresentation of minorities in the incarcerated population.
- Signaled little support for any proposals to reduce the use of labor-scale wages on some public construction projects. Householder called it the "wrong direction at this time." Sykes said the idea would set the state back.
- Predicted sports wagering will come to Ohio following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the option for states. Householder predicted wagering will come to Ohio but doesn't know what it will look like. Yuko agreed, but warned it won't be the "cash cow" some people expect for state revenue. Obhof said he remains skeptical of allowing sports wagering.
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