Plan would raise car fees



The tax force report calls for a two- to five-year phase-in of the proposed fee increases.
By JEFF ORTEGA
VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT
COLUMBUS -- Ohioans should pay more for things such as vehicle registrations, auto titles or drivers licenses to help free up to $190 million more of state money for road-improvement projects, says a special state panel.
In a recent report, the Motor Vehicle Tax Task Force that studied options surrounding the state's gasoline tax said the proposed unspecified increases in motor vehicle administrative transactions would pay for the operations of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, now paid from the gas tax, freeing up the gas tax money to take on more road projects.
"If we don't have a quality infrastructure in terms of roads and bridges, then we'll suffer in terms of economic development," said state Rep. Stephen P. Buehrer, a northwest Ohio Republican and the co-chairman of the task force. "I believe it's very important."
The tax force report, released in December, calls for a two- to five-year phase-in of the proposed fee increases, if they're enacted.
The report and its recommendations have been sent to Republican Gov. Bob Taft and legislative leaders. Any proposed tax or fee increase must be approved by the Legislature and the governor.
The special committee, comprised of state lawmakers and others, spent 10 months studying the state's gas tax and the programs that are funded by it.
Gas tax facts
Right now, the state gas tax is 22 cents per gallon. Portions of the tax proceeds go to local governments, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety.
In the fiscal year that ended this past June, the gas tax generated $1.38 billion, according to state documents.
"We think there needs to be some additional revenue in the [transportation] system as well as for the patrol," said Buehrer, the assistant House majority floor leader.
Buehrer said the committee, which also considered other options such as recommending an increase in the gas tax, ultimately came to a proposed solution that he said would garner additional money for road projects and at the same time provide a funding source for the state patrol that would allow for growth as the agency deals with stepped-up demands such as homeland security.
Where money goes
According to the task force report, the state transportation department spent an average of $350 million annually in new capacity-adding road projects between 1996 and 2002. The report said the amount was enough to expand the state's highway network by only one-third of 1 percent annually.
"If you just do the fuel-tax increase, then you really haven't solved anything," Buehrer said.
Republican House Speaker Larry Householder said he'll wait and see how Republican Gov. Bob Taft deals with the issue in the proposed two-year state budget Taft will present to the Legislature early this year.
The state's next spending plan must be in place by July 1. The current two-year, $44 billion state budget runs through June.
Brian Cunningham, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said the department is waiting to see what kind of legislation develops from the task force's report before the department lends its support.
Lt. Gary Lewis, a spokesman for the state highway patrol, said his agency is also waiting to see what specific legislation develops from the report. Lewis said the patrol has been receiving a portion of the state gas tax since the 1950s.

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