Despite both chambers of the Ohio legislature taking a bite out of his proposed 18-cent gas tax hike, shrinking it first to 10.7 cents and next to just six, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine maintains the initial proposal is the only one that would save the state’s deteriorating infrastructure and the people who use it.
“There’s nothing more important than the safety of our family members, and the condition our roads are in directly impacts how safe our families are,” he said in a Friday interview with WCPO.
The subject of traffic safety may have personal resonance for DeWine, who lost his 22-year-old daughter, Becky, to a crash in 1993.
DeWine stopped short of saying he would veto a transportation bill with a smaller increase but repeatedly insisted his 18-cent proposal was the only way to raise enough money — $1.2 billion annually — to repair Ohio’s ailing roads and bridges.
“We’ll barely be able to keep our roads up” with the smaller amounts, he said. “In fact, after a couple years, our roads will start really going down, and we’ll have absolutely no new construction.
“That’s not a threat. It’s just a fact. We simply will not have the money to do it.”
It's the same thing Ohio Department of Transportation director Jack Marchbanks told legislators in February, when the DeWine administration first recommended the increase. Senate President Larry Obhof responded with skepticism.
A cornerstone of DeWine’s push for the increase, which would make Ohio’s gas tax the fifth-highest in the nation at 46 per gallon, has been an ODOT-compiled list of the state’s 150 most dangerous intersections.
At least one had been the site of a fatal crash by the time the report was issued. Officer Dale Woods, a member of the Colerain Township Police Department, was hit by a truck Jan. 4 while responding to the another crash at the intersection of Colerain Avenue and Harry Lee Lane. He died days later.
“In the bill that we introduced, our bill, we’ll have the ability to fix every one of these,” DeWine said. “After we get those done in a couple years, we’ll go to the next 150. In the bill that was passed by the House, bill that was passed by the Senate, we don’t have the ability to do that. There’s not a one — not a one of these that we’ll be able to get fixed.”
All of the money generated from the smaller increases would be funneled into road maintenance and paying off the state’s inherited debt from past loans, he said.
DeWine anticipates spending $390 million on interest for existing bonds. As far as he’s concerned, borrowing more money is out of the question.
Despite that somewhat grim picture, however, DeWine ended the interview on an upbeat note: “I’m hopeful. I’m very hopeful.
"I think the good news is — and it is good news — that both the House and Senate members, by a good margin, have voted to recognize that there is, in fact, a problem,” he said. “This is a work in progress. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to come out of conference committee with something that will actually deal with the problem that we’re facing in the state of Ohio.”