At a time when the Mahoning Valley is uncertain about how it will fare in the upcoming capital budget sweepstakes, it is encouraging that Gov. Bob Taft has chosen to keep former Youngstown Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro on the state's Transportation Review Advisory Council.
Why encouraging? Because Taft's decision shows what this region can accomplish in Columbus if everyone speaks with one voice. Ungaro had the support of all segments of the community, which obviously influenced the governor. Like his recent predecessors, Taft has consistently argued that the Mahoning Valley would do better in its bid for state dollars if all the stakeholders, including government officials and business and community leaders, worked together to come up with a wish list.
Now, more than ever, such cooperation could mean the difference between this region getting significant dollars for job-creation projects and the Valley again settling for the crumbs.
Millions: Indeed, Ungaro's success as a member of TRAC stems from the fact that he has been able to push transportation projects that have regional support and impact. Through his efforts, the state has committed $100 million to the Valley, including $53.8 million for the twin bridges over Meander Reservoir, the source of drinking water for more than 300,000 area residents, $50 million for the 711 connector and $12.3 million for the Interstate 80-state route 46 interchange in Austintown.
The state money for the 711 connector will be added to the $25 million that U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, secured for the project.
Infrastructure improvement is an important factor in any economic revitalization effort and having Ungaro on TRAC ensures that projects from this region will be given serious consideration.
The residents of the Valley owe Gov. Taft a debt of gratitude -- since he could have easily succumbed to pressure from other parts of the state that feel they have a right to be at the table.
That said, we hope the region receives the same kind of attention from the administration when the state's capital budget is developed. Even though the two-year budget won't be adopted until next year, the governor's office is already beginning the process of evaluating bricks-and mortar projects around Ohio. Historically, the Mahoning Valley has been one of the lower tier recipients of the state dollars -- even though there were projects that warranted a major infusion of money from Columbus.
Battle brewing: This year, the battle for capital budget dollars will be even more intense, given state government's fiscal crisis and the possibility of the General Assembly further raiding non-discretionary allocations in the biennium budget if the Ohio Supreme Court again rejects the legislature's funding plan for public education.
Aware of the challenges facing this region, area legislators have asked local officials to submit their wish lists as soon as possible so the projects can be prioritized and submitted to the governor's office. Such an approach is well advised.