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Ohio House OKs 10.7-cent gas-tax hike — far less than what DeWine wanted

By Jim Siegel • Updated Mar 7, 2019 at 3:57 PM

COLUMBUS — Local governments are in line to get a bigger slice of the new state gas tax under the latest changes to the state transportation budget, which passed the Ohio House of Representatives on Thursday.

The two-year, $7.9 billion budget focuses on road and bridge funding. It includes a 10.7-cent-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax, and a 20-cent increase in the tax on diesel fuel. Both would be phased in over three years, starting Oct. 1.

The bill, which passed 71 to 27, now heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

The gasoline and diesel fuel tax increases are expected to yield about $872 million.

The motor fuel tax on gasoline are to be phased in by 7 cents this year and 3.7 cents in 2020.

The motor fuel tax on diesel are to be phased in over a three year period. This tax is to increase by 10 cents this year, 6 cents in 2020, and 4 cents in 2021.

Of the current 28-cent gas tax, 60 percent goes to the Ohio Department of Transportation and 40 percent is divided among counties, cities and townships. Under the latest bill, 55 percent of the revenue from the tax increase would go to the state, 45 percent to local entities, increasing local revenue to approximately $390 million per year.

The House plan is to raise significantly less than the 18-cent gas-tax increase that Gov. Mike DeWine wanted.

Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) said the amount of the tax increases were chosen to hit a revenue target. "We looked at traditionally what the Department of Transportation has spent since 2014, and it produced a certain amount of revenue that members felt comfortable with," he said.

DeWine is not comfortable. He said Wednesday that the House's reduction to his gas-tax proposal will leave needed repairs undone and put lives at risk. He again called his plan the "bare minimum."

"The House-passed bill is far from ideal, but I appreciate the strong bipartisan acknowledgement that our state and local jurisdictions have a major revenue shortage to deal with vital transportation needs,” DeWine said Thursday.

"I am very open to dialogue with the legislature on this issue, but I continue to believe that our proposal as introduced provides the money it takes to do the job right. I plan to work with the Senate to improve the House-passed bill and work toward a final agreement that funds vital maintenance, new construction, promotes jobs, makes our state more competitive, and enhances safety for the driving public."

Rep. Scott Oelslager, R-Canton, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the change means $17 million more for counties over two years.

Ohio's gas tax has not been increased since 2005, and the $1.5 billion raised in 2013 by bonding against future turnpike tolls has been used up.

DeWine's proposed gas-tax increase would raise nearly $2.5 billion in road and bridge money over the next two years, while the House plan would raise $930 million.

Ohio's tax rate for gasoline and diesel has been the same since at least 1993, but the House plan would bring the gas tax to 38.7 cents, compared with 48 cents for diesel. Householder said that relates to the damage large trucks do to Ohio's roads.

"The fact is, it's known that heavy trucks are what cause damage to our roads," he said. "They really don't attribute any damage to passenger cars."

The House transportation budget also includes a handful of other fee increases.

The House bill calls for a $200 registration fee for electric vehicles and $100 for hybrids, charged each time a vehicle is registered or the registration is renewed. Half of the estimated $26.6 million in revenue would go to local governments.

The plan increases the registrar fee from $3.50 to $5. It also permits cities and townships to levy an additional $5 annual license-plate tax per vehicle.

The House bill also calls for spending $100 million per year on public transit — far more than the $40 million proposed by DeWine.

The transportation budget will create Ohio’s Road to the Future Committee to study Ohio’s infrastructure needs. This committee will report back to the Ohio General Assembly by Oct. 1.

In addition to taxes and fees, the House bill makes a number of transportation-related policy changes.

Nearly six months after Columbus city officials banned low-speed electric scooters from sidewalks, the House plan would establish new definitions and regulations for the scooters, including allowing them on sidewalks. Supporters say the proposal would not override Columbus' sidewalk ban.

It further restricts the use of traffic cameras by requiring cities to file all camera-related cases in municipal court, rather than using an administrative hearing. It also would take away financial incentive to use the cameras by subtracting fine revenue from a city's share of state local-government funds.

The legislation also eliminates the requirement for a front license plate.

“Chairman Oelslager and the Ohio House Finance Committee worked tirelessly to fund Ohio’s transportation needs,” Householder said. “The House plan fulfills Ohio’s immediate transportation and public safety needs, and looks toward the future. It provides innovative ways to enhance Ohio’s transportation infrastructure, and ensures that we as a legislature have oversight and accountability over the Ohio Department of Transportation.”

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©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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