CINCINNATI — Gov. Mike DeWine's administration on Thursday recommended increasing the state gas tax by 18 cents a gallon beginning July 1 and annually adjusting that tax for inflation to provide sufficient funding for maintenance of roads and bridges.
Ohio's Department of Transportation director, Jack Marchbanks, introduced the Republican governor's $7.43 billion transportation budget proposal to the House Finance Committee. The gas tax included in the two-year budget would be adjusted annually with the consumer price index to ensure sufficient funding going forward, Marchbanks said.
He said revenue raised the first year, by increasing the current 28-cent tax to 46 cents, equates to roughly $1.2 billion and will be split between the department and local governments.
Marchbanks told legislators that without more revenue in the face of the "impending transportation crisis," there will be no funds for any highway improvement projects in the state and roads will deteriorate. Statistics show that deteriorating road conditions lead to more crashes, which lead to more fatalities, he said.
"Gov. DeWine understands that maintaining the integrity of our roads and bridges is not only important to our economy; it is important to the health and welfare of our citizens," Marchbanks said.
If the Legislature approves the recommendations, the proposal would provide the department in fiscal year 2020 with $750 million additional dollars in revenue to pave roads, fix guardrails, fill potholes, clear snow and ice, maintain bridges, and improve safety, Marchbanks told the committee. He said it also will provide local governments with a significant increase in the funding, including $1.6 million for every county in the state.
Marchbanks has previously said that 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.
A transportation crisis is looming despite "all of ODOT's multimillion-dollar cost-saving efforts to make our agency leaner and more efficient," he told committee members Thursday.
The department realizes that asking Ohioans to pay higher fees for roadway use is "no small task," but hopes that most will understand the importance of responsible and sufficient transportation funding, the director said.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that Tom Balzer, president of the Ohio Trucking Association, and Grace Gallucci, president of the Ohio Association of Regional Councils, commented on a potential tax increase in testimony to legislators this week.
Balzer said that the state and local governments have immediate transportation needs, and the gas tax raises immediate revenue.
Gallucci pointed out that while questions remain about whether the gas tax is the fairest way to assess users of Ohio roads, it is a way to get needed money right away.
Jon Honeck, senior policy analyst for the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, said Thursday that the association fully supports the proposed increase and thinks it will go a long way toward "restoring a strong partnership between the state and county governments in addressing infrastructure needs."
The House Democratic Leader, Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes, said in a statement Thursday that the proposed increase "is a tremendous amount of money to working people, families and seniors."
"We'll be evaluating the governor's proposed tax increase and working with our Republican colleagues to determine a path forward that doesn't overburden people living paycheck to paycheck," said Sykes, of Akron.
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