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The governor’s turnpike trick

Published: Sun, March 20, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

The governor’s turnpike trick

Gov. John Kasich has been boast- ing of late that his proposed budget, unlike those of other Ohio governors, contains no smoke and mirrors.

While we would acknowledge that parts of his proposal are refreshingly straightforward, there is an exception glimmering on the horizon. That is his proposed lease of the Ohio Turnpike, which would produce a “profit” of perhaps $2 billion that could be treated as general revenue.

That budget-balancing tactic goes beyond smoke and mirrors, right into the realm of sleight of hand. In this case, the magician governor puts up for sale an asset that has been in use, maintained and improved over a period of a half century exclusively with tolls collected from private and commercial customers of the road. He then converts that asset not for the benefit of the customers, but for residents of the state, many of whom never or rarely pay to use the turnpike. Those who do use the turnpike would be hostage for as long as 75 years to the buyer, which is likely to be a consortium of foreign investors, who will obviously anticipate a profit.

Akin to highway robbery

We’ve described this scheme before as robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it continues to escape us as to how this budget maneuver can be justified as conservative. If anything, it is a radical redistribution of wealth.

Advocates talk about leasing the turnpike as a business deal in which the state takes advantage of untapped value. The same argument could be made for selling the Statehouse to a private investor, who would then charge the state rent for the next 75 years. Not that we’re endorsing the idea, but at least that transaction would have an advantage of honesty. It would be selling what’s Paul and Pauline’s, with proceeds of the sale going to Paul and Pauline.

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