As state lawmakers in the Ohio Senate begin digging into the Transportation Budget, which carries an increase to the gas tax of 10.7 cents over two years, proponents of Governor DeWine’s proposed 18-cent increase once again advocated for it.
Monday Jack Marchbanks, the director of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), testified once again on the need for an increase in the gas tax to pay for road and bridge maintenance as well as other things like safety projects and new major projects he says would deal with pinch-points in the system.
Last week, just days after Governor DeWine asked lawmakers to consider his proposed 18-cent increase as a conservative, minimalist approach that did the bare minimum to maintain roads and bridges in order to save lives; the House of Representatives slashed the increase down to 10.7 cents.
Marchbanks says the current bill kicks the can down the road, and calls it a status quo measure that lacks a long term solution for a growing problem.
“As the increase is fully phased in, we do reach a point where we are meeting our maintenance needs, but you’re talking about not meeting your maintenance needs in the first year; no money for safety projects; and no money for any major new improvements on the system,” said Marchbanks.
Currently, the number of fatalities on Ohio’s roads per 100,000 vehicle miles traveled is below the national average according to State Senator Rob McColley. That statistic is one of many factors that have some lawmakers weighing the need for additional safety projects and major new construction.
McColley, chairman of the Senate Transportation, Workforce, and Commerce Committee, set a Thursday deadline for lawmakers to submit a substitute for the House Bill. He wants to see it on the floor for a vote by next Wednesday.
Before it gets there, McColley says some members of the Republican Caucus are entertaining the idea of offsetting the gas tax increase with an income tax decrease.
According to McColley a gas tax increase could disproportionately affect low-income Ohioans and the income tax decrease could help with that.
The prospect of the gas tax increase hitting poor Ohioans harder than most was brought up by State Senator Tina Maharath when Director Marchbanks took questions after testifying.
Marchbanks told Maharath the projects the gas tax increase would pay for would create a good economy for Ohio and that benefits everyone. What remains to be seen is if it would benefit everyone equitably.
Along the same lines, McColley points out that low-income Ohioans working two jobs or traveling long distances may be driving more, or have less fuel-efficient vehicles, than those who are financially secure.
He also says Ohioans have an expectation. “Bob and Betty Buckeye are going to look at essential government services of the roads and bridges, education, police and fire, and they don’t expect their net taxes to go up to pay for any of those things,” said McColley.
Once passed, if the Senate changes the House Bill, it will have to go back to the House of Representatives for the chamber’s approval before heading to the Governor for his signature.