I read the Dec. 28 column in The Vindicator, “Turnpike Plan Good for State, Valley.” Personally, I find the whole turnpike scheme to be at the height of hypocrisy. The guy promoting this grand idea is the same guy who berates Washington for spending money they don’t have and indebting our children’s future. What in the world does Gov. John Kasich think he is proposing to do with our Ohio Turnpike? Yes, it is to borrow against our future and possibly jeopardize the AA Fitch rating the Ohio Turnpike currently enjoys.
Let’s call it “highway robbery.” The fact is that we always need revenue for road and bridge construction. This is not a new concern for Gov. Kasich or past administrations. The difference in this administration is that the governor would rather borrow against the future and have it paid for after he leaves office. Though such a plan is politically convenient for the governor, it is bad public policy for Ohioans.
The Kasich administration paid KPMG, a Texas consulting firm, $3.4 million to study potential privatization of the Ohio Turnpike. Upon completion of the study, the governor opted for a lesser discussed proposal, one to leverage the turnpike through bond sales. Whatever happened to the governor’s proposal to sell or lease the turnpike? Unfortunately for the governor, the apparent bids weren’t high enough and northern Ohioans were strongly opposed to both ideas.
Why now does Gov. Kasich believe leveraging through bonds is the best option? The obvious answer is because it is the “road of least resistance.” Yet, northern Ohioans still aren’t getting a fair deal. We will continue to pay our normal gas tax and pike tolls, but our share of road construction and maintenance will go elsewhere in the state. Essentially, this is singling out citizens who rely on the thoroughfare by taxing us twice. I hope all my colleagues who signed the “no tax pledge” will look really hard at double-taxing my northern Ohio constituents for services they won’t receive.
Perhaps one of the most egregious components of this scheme is that it will enable the Kasich administration to sidestep the Ohio 5 percent constitutional debt cap provision. But, I guess ignoring the constitution has never been a big deal to this administration. Gov. Kasich recently indicated that he is ready to move forward with issuing bonds against liquor profits to finance economic development grants for JobsOhio.
Serious constitutional questions on this funding procedure still exist. Previously, the Commerce Director refused to sign off on the bond sale until the constitutional issues were resolved. There still has been no legal consensus on the constitutionality of the funding scheme. Gov. Kasich has shown that when it comes to a question about the Ohio Constitution he’ll decide based on the input of Wall Street instead of Supreme Court justices.
Bonding turnpike revenue is clearly a bad idea for the Mahoning Valley. The turnpike will take on greater bond debt, and the money will be spent on highway projects off the turnpike. I find it troubling that some folks think every idea that John Kasich has is a good idea. The reality is that no Democrat or Republican is right all the time or wrong all the time. Disagreeing with the governor on the turnpike should not be viewed as obstruction, but, instead, as a balanced approach to public policy. I think a little pragmatic thought rather than ideological desires could serve this governor and this administration greatly. Let’s leave the Ohio Turnpike as is. We should continue to allow it to flourish as one of the nation’s greatest super highways.
State Rep. Ron Gerberry, an Austintown Democrat, represents Ohio’s 59th District.