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DeWine pushes gas tax hike, water quality in first State of the State speech

Posted at 7:40 AM, Mar 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-05 17:23:24-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Mike DeWine used his first State of the State speech Tuesday to push lawmakers to raise the Ohio gas tax by 18 cents to fix crumbling roads and dangerous bridges and to announce plans to focus on the state's deadly addictions epidemic and other health issues like infant mortality.

The Republican governor also said Ohio must address its water quality problems, and in particular, the algae blooms that have threatened portions of the western Lake Erie basin for years. He announced an "H2 Ohio Fund" that would focus on water quality around the state.

DeWine called his gas tax proposal a "minimalist approach" that's needed to fix the most serious problems as soon as possible. He said 2,600 local bridges alone are rated in poor condition, while the Transportation Department has identified 150 dangerous intersections that require immediate repair.

"If you think and your constituents think the roads are bad now, you haven't seen anything yet if we don't take action," DeWine said.

DeWine announced the creation of a new public health fund that will use public and private dollars on treatment and prevention programs. The money meant for local communities will support treatment and recovery programs and help children and adults suffering from mental illness and addiction.

DeWine also said he's directing his cabinet directors overseeing mental health issues, aging, human services and health to focus on these issues, including the number of children still exposed to lead paint.

The governor also announced plans to dramatically increase the number of specialty courts where defendants struggling with addiction can get help, "to get people into treatment and out of jail."

The speech was the first such governor's address in Columbus since 2011, following former Gov. John Kasich's decision to take the State of the State on the road. Kasich delivered speeches in Lima, Steubenville, and Westerville in suburban Columbus, among other cities.

House Speaker Larry Householder made note of the change when he announced the speech as "Here, back in the people's house."

DeWine started the speech with a reference to fellow Republican Gov. James Rhodes, who died 18 years ago Monday. He concluded it with a tribute to fellow GOP Gov. George Voinovich, whom DeWine served as lieutenant governor.

Overall, the theme of the speech was that the state has "unfinished business" in several arenas, including infrastructure, water quality, drug addiction and children's health.

"Simply put, it's time for us to invest in our future," DeWine said.

DeWine's transportation director has said 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.

Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof is skeptical of the proposal, while Householder has acknowledged the need.

Both Democrats and fellow Republicans planned responses to DeWine's speech.