Local Democratic officeholders and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald criticized Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to borrow $1.5 billion, leveraging Ohio Turnpike tolls, for infrastructure improvements.
FitzGerald, a Democrat considering a 2014 run for governor, said Tuesday that pressure from elected officials in the northern part of the state, the location of the 241-mile turnpike, played a role in Kasich’s decision to not privatize the highway.
But the Republican governor’s plan to leverage turnpike tolls isn’t fair to the northern part of the state, FitzGerald said.
The plan, unveiled last week by Kasich, would have about 90 percent of the money raised used for projects on or near the turnpike.
The money collected from the state’s gas tax would go to the southern portion of Ohio. Those in the north would continue to pay gas taxes, but roads and bridges there wouldn’t be funded through that tax.
“The state’s gas tax is now being diverted from the northern part of the state,” FitzGerald said. “It’s an increased tax on northern Ohio. It’s a shell game.”
FitzGerald, outgoing Mahoning County Commissioner John McNally IV and Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka had a meeting at the United Auto Workers Local 1714 union hall in Lordstown.
The event was sparsely attended with 17 people there, including six elected officials, about four current or retired UAW members and a Republican video tracker who taped most of the meeting. Polivka wasn’t there even though he was on the email inviting people to the meeting.
The low turnout was because the issue is “very complicated,” and is “confusing to people,” FitzGerald said.
FitzGerald said he wasn’t politicizing the turnpike issue for a potential gubernatorial run.
He added that Kasich chose to wait until after the presidential election and after getting pressure from those opposed to leasing the turnpike to make his announcement.
But Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesman, said, “It’s blind political ambition that’s putting [FitzGerald] in the position to oppose this. He’s doing a disservice to the northern part of the state.”
The state was going to make about $600 million in road improvements to its northern portion over the next 20 years before Kasich’s proposal, Nichols said.
Now, it will do at least $1.35 billion [90 percent of the $1.5 billion] over the next six years, and create about 65,000 jobs, Nichols said.
FitzGerald also said the governor’s plan would “significantly increase tolls.”
But Kasich said last week tolls would be frozen for 10 years for passenger vehicles traveling less than 30 miles on the turnpike with an EZ Pass. Toll hikes for longer trips and trucks would be capped at the rate of inflation, which is less than prior toll increases, including last year’s 10-percent jump.
When asked about that by a Vindicator reporter, FitzGerald said, “That’s true, but go back 20 years” and the increase was lower.
Nichols said the inflation-cap increase is less than half of the increases nationally over the past 20 years.
Asked for his proposal to raise money for road-and-bridge improvements, FitzGerald said, “I’m not saying I have an easy solution,” but the governor should have asked people for opinions before last week’s announcement.
State Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, said at the meeting that Kasich’s plan is a “scheme to generate revenue” and is “unfair to northern Ohio.”
Many of those who have praised Kasich’s proposal did so, Gerberry said, hoping to get money for projects in their communities.