One of Governor Kasich’s bigger budget proposals, unveiled in December 2012, was the plan to leverage the value of the Ohio Turnpike to inject up to $3 billion for transportation infrastructure projects. In announcing the plan, Governor Kasich said that the vast majority of additional highway dollars raised by the sale of the new Turnpike bonds would go directly to benefit the Turnpike itself and accelerate other highway projects in Northern Ohio. He said those additional funds would allow the state to direct revenue from traditional sources – like motor fuel tax revenues – toward much-needed improvements throughout the rest of the state. The plan was originally included in House Bill 35, the transportation operating budget bill, but was pulled out by the House into a separate bill, House Bill 51, both of which passed the House on February 28, 2013.
Democratic members of the House attempted to include a variety of amendments in House Bill 35, including restoring funding for travel counselors at rest areas, eliminating the privatization of Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) parts shops, creating a study committee to see how Ohio is complying with the Motor Voter Act and improving minority business contracting. The amendment that received the most debate came from Representative Michael Ashford (D-Toledo) to remove the increased truckload weight limits that were added to the bill in committee. Representative Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon), who sponsored the amendment to increase the weight limit for trucks from 80,000 to 90,000 pounds, said it allows trucks with triple axels to go from the Ohio Turnpike to a close terminal without a permit, something other states already allow. None of the Democratic amendments were included in the bill. The bill ultimately passed by a vote of 62-32.
On House Bill 51, the biggest issue of concern was ensuring that the bill upheld Governor Kasich’s promise that bond funds from the Turnpike financing were spent in Northern Ohio. Language was included in the bill saying that any project that uses those funds must have a “nexus” to the Turnpike, as the administration strongly resisted having a specific percentage included. Even with the new language, opinion was divided among Representatives from Northern Ohio, with some seeing the plan as an unfair burden on users of the Turnpike to fund projects in other parts of the state and others saying it was smart government and necessary to complete needed road projects. The bill passed 58 to 36, with four Republicans joining most of the Democrats in opposition and Representatives John Barnes (D-Cleveland) and Zack Milkovich (D-Akron) joining co-sponsor Representative Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) in support.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and Industrial Commission budgets also easily cleared the House session that same day on unanimous votes without any comments beyond those of the sponsor.
The Senate will now deliberate on all four bills, though Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) has indicated that the Senate plans to fold House Bill 51 back into House Bill 35 and to consider the proposal as one bill.