Governor Kasich signed House Bill 51 (McGregor-Patmon), the transportation budget and Ohio Turnpike bonding plan, on Monday, April 1, 2013, using his veto powers only once. The governor officially signed the bill during an event in Cleveland, with a bipartisan group of legislators in attendance.

After a complicated legislative process that saw the plan introduced as House Bill 35, split into two bills when the House moved the Turnpike bonding plan into a separate bill and finally recombined in the Senate as House Bill 51, the measure ended up receiving bipartisan support in both houses.  While the main focus of the bill is providing spending authority – more than $7.5 billion over the FY 2014-2015 biennium — for the Departments of Transportation and Public Safety and other transportation-related agencies and projects, the bill included several policy highlights as well. The bill:

  • Increases the weight limit for trucks on state roads to 80,000 pounds from 70,000 pounds;
  • Authorizes a 70-mph speed limit on interstates outside urban areas and a 60-mph speed limit on two-lane state routes outside municipal corporations when certain conditions are met;
  • •Authorizes the Department of Transportation to establish a traveler information program to provide real-time traffic conditions and travel time information, and
  • Requires the Department of Transportation to reimburse a county for the cost of relocating a county water and sewer facility because of a highway construction project.

The most contentious part of the bill was the Governor’s proposal to securitize the revenue stream of the Ohio Turnpike to pay for transportation infrastructure projects. House and Senate members were deeply divided, not just along party lines, but also between members representing northern Ohio.  One of the primary concerns was ensuring that revenues from the bond proposal were not diverted to pay for projects outside of the Turnpike area, thus the final bill limits the use of turnpike bond funds to projects within 75 miles of the Turnpike and requires that at least 90 percent of the funds be used on those projects.  The bill also freezes toll increases for E-ZPass users driving fewer than 30 miles on the Turnpike but limits the freeze to passenger cars.

On the plan to sell bonds against future revenues of the Ohio Turnpike, Kasich said multiple times that it was a move that should have been done decades earlier. With the plan, Kasich said Ohio doesn’t have to beg Washington for more money and is able to take care of its highway needs while other states are forced to raise gas taxes. The administration expects to sell $1 billion in bonds by the end of the year, with another $500 million in bonds possible within the next four to five years.

Kasich vetoed just one provision: $7.5 million added by lawmakers in each fiscal year to reimburse operating railroads for the maintenance of roadways within the rights-of-way that they own or control. In his veto message, the governor said railroads have the responsibility for maintaining the crossings, and said the provision represented a shift in the responsibility for routine maintenance from the railroads to the state.