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Farming out the turnpike

Published: Sun, July 3, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

Farming out the turnpike

We will leave it to social sci- entists to explain how an issue that just five years ago helped define Republican gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Blackwell as out of the mainstream and led to his defeat is now on the verge of fait accompli by Ohio’s new governor, John Kasich. We’re talking about the proposed lease of the Ohio Turnpike, which is one of a number of social engineering issues that was insinuated into the budget passed by the General Assembly and signed by Kasich Thursday.

Whatever the explanation, the sale or lease of the Ohio Turnpike remains a bad idea. And it remains an idea that is neither politically conservative nor fiscally prudent.

The turnpike is an asset that has been built and maintained over a half century by the users of the turnpike — some, but not all, of whom are Ohio taxpayers.

Eager to ‘share the wealth’

One of the “arguments” being posited by leasing proponents is that the turnpike presently only benefits northern Ohioans, but its lease would allow all Ohioans to share in the profit.

But that twisted logic points out the very reason why the turnpike should be left alone to function as it has. The turnpike was not designed as a cash cow for the taxpayers of northern Ohio or Southern Ohio — and certainly not for politicians in Columbus.

The Turnpike Commission was created to insulate this important roadway from the grasp of politicians looking for something for nothing. The commission collects tolls with which it pays its debts and maintains, polices and improves the road. The fathers of the turnpike recognized that the motorists and truckers who pay the tolls are not cash cows. They should not be forced to pay a premium that is diverted into the state’s general fund, other highway funds or into the profit statements of a johnny-come-lately foreign consortium that buys a lease.

Risking the independent and successful operation of the turnpike for short-term profit and political gain is many things, but none dare call it conservative governance.

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