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Potholes could haunt Republicans

Published: Sun, March 30, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

When one of the most important budget analysts in a $121.1 billion entity (reflecting a two-year spending plan) sends an email to journalists, you know it’s important. And, when the analyst’s obvious goal is to influence the scribblers, you know the entity is worried.

Against that backdrop, perhaps it would have been best had Randy Cole, the president of the State Controlling Board and policy adviser to the Office of Management and Budget, not sent an email to Vindicator Politics Writer David Skolnick and this writer (Vindicator editorial page editor/columnist) raising the specter of the ”pothole issue.”

“Last year, when we talked, I mentioned the amount of state support for local infrastructure,” Cole wrote. “Apparently, with pothole season, it’s become an issue again.”

So, why would one of the top officials in state government take time off from his busy day to reach out to journalists in Youngstown?

Remember Chicago?

It could be because the Republican administration of Gov. John Kasich knows that the pothole issue could well become a replay of the Chicago blizzard of 1979.

Readers of a certain age will remember that mayoral election in Chicago, when maverick candidate Jane Byrne won the Democratic nomination over incumbent Mayor Michael Bilandic.

Here’s how the Chicago Tribune reported the outcome of the election in February 1979:

“Paralyzing blizzards set up Mayor Michael Bilandic for defeat, but it was bright sunshine on Feb. 27 that did him in. The fair weather on the day of the mayoral primary election brought out the voters, and the memory of the city’s inept handling of record January storms drove them to overturn the Democratic machine. Maverick candidate Jane Byrne won the Democratic nomination.”

Thus, you can see why Ohio’s Republicans are worried — about the thousands of miles of pocked-marked roads.

Gov. Kasich is seeking re-election this year, and while polls show him leading his presumed Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive, the time between now and the November general election is fraught with political danger.

Angry taxpayers become surly voters.

Every time a driver hits a pothole, he or she will recall the bemoaning from local government officials — both Democrats and Republicans: Major cuts by the Republican governor and the Republican-controlled General Assembly to the Local Government Fund has put counties, cities and townships between a rock and a hard place.

And every time a driver hits a pothole with such force that the muffler is torn off or a new rim job is required, Republican Kasich and the GOP majority in the Legislature will be blamed.

After all, they cut the Local Government Fund by almost 50 percent from when a Democrat, Ted Strickland, was the governor. Strickland lost his re-election bid to Kasich in 2010.

That’s why the president of the Controlling Board, Cole, who was appointed by Kasich, took time off from his busy schedule to email Skolnick and this writer.

“The attached spreadsheet shows what was distributed in shared gas and license revenue by the state to communities in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana Counties last year.

“Approximately the same amount will be distributed again this year. It gets deposited directly into the local govs checking account — on the 1st and 15th of the month — like a paycheck.

“No grants, no strings attached, well, except the constitutional requirement that it gets used for roads and bridges.

“Public works grants, state share of federal highway projects, etc., are not included in this spreadsheet.

“$20 million fills a lot of potholes, according to ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) approximately 318,000. Or, it would pave about 115 miles of roads.”

No comparison

There’s just one problem. Last year’s winter was a veritable heat wave compared with this winter and the havoc it caused in the Mahoning Valley.

To hear local officials in the tri-county area tell it, the money coming from the state for local infrastructure will not take care of all the roads and bridges that need to be fixed.

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