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Ohio Democrats Push For Turnpike Revenue To Benefit Nearby Communities

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Democrats in the Ohio legislature say they want to make sure Governor Kasich keeps his promises when it comes to the Ohio Turnpike. So, the Democrats say they’ll put his promises together in the form of an amendment for lawmakers to vote on in the future. Statehouse correspondent Jo Ingles reports.

Monday, February 25, 2013 at 6:11 pm

When Governor Kasich rolled out his plan to issue bonds for the Ohio Turnpike at the end of last year, he made some promises. And most of them centered around the idea that people who pay the tolls and use the turnpike in Northern Ohio on a regular basis won’t be paying the price for projects that benefit other parts of the state. In fact, Kasich said 90% of the revenue generated would go back to projects that benefit communities near the turnpike. But in recent testimony, it appears leaders at the Ohio Department of Transportation are backing off a little on that 90% number. Ohio Department of Transportation Jerry Wray says it’s not feasible to do that.

Wray: "It would be foolish to contrive some number, goal or whatever to say we are going to spend this much money in this place. What we ought to be after is to say we are going to get our transportation system in great shape. It’s going to be safe, connected and mobile. That’s the goal is the actual result on the ground, not a certain number of dollars spent on an area."

A spokesman for the Transportation Department, Steve Faulkner, says the goal is to make sure most of the money generated from the turnpike is spent in northern Ohio where the turnpike is. But as far as the state legally committing to that 90% number, he says that doesn’t make sense.

Faulkner: "Look at it this way. What happens if we put that 90% threshold in legislation and we get to it and a project isn’t nearly complete but what do we do….throw up our hands….and say we can’t finish it because we have to stick to 90% because that’s what it says in the law. I don’t think you want to be bound to that percentage or that number."

But Democratic State Representative John Carney says it’s important to stick to that number because if it isn’t specified, the state could use money generated from the turnpike to support projects in other areas of the state. He says the Governor said it when selling the plan to communities surrounding the turnpike and the Governor ought to make good on his word now.

Carney: "It is not acceptable to be the Governor of Ohio and be dishonest with Ohioans and that’s exactly what’s happening here."

Carney and other Democrats say the Governor and his agency leaders are now backing down on commitments that he initially made. So the members of the minority party in the Ohio legislature plan to put the Governor’s promises… explained last year…..into legislation as an amendment that can be voted on by lawmakers. That’s the only way they say they can insure that what was promised is actually delivered.

State Representative Matt Lundy says it’s just not fair to allow the Governor to promise one thing and deliver another for political purposes.

Lundy: "This may be good for the Governor’s re-election but I think fiscally it’s irresponsible. It’s part of a road show to hand out checks for re-election while Ohioans are going to be paying this bill for generations to come."

The fight over the plan for the Ohio Turnpike continues in the legislature as lawmakers debate it as a key part of a larger budget plan. The bonding of the toll road could bring as much as one and a half billion dollars into the state’s coffers…..and it’s estimated it could end up generating 65 thousand new jobs.

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