COLUMBUS – House Democratic lawmakers called into question the credibility of several key promises that were made to Northern Ohioans when Gov. John Kasich outlined his plan to bond the Ohio Turnpike. They note that there is no language in the bill (House Bill 51) to prevent tolls from increasing or keep 90 percent the turnpike revenue in Northern Ohio.
“Gov. Kasich made a lot or promises during his press conference to announce his turnpike plan, but the legislation that would put this plan in place does nothing to ensure these promises are kept,” said State Rep. Alicia Reece, ranking member on the Transportation Sub-Committee.
Gov. Kasich has proposed borrowing $1.5 billion in new debt to be repaid with future turnpike toll revenue to fund transportation projects around the state. During the announcement, Gov. Kasich promised that tolls would be frozen for local users and that tolls for long distance travelers would not increase beyond the rate of inflation. He also promised 90 percent of the revenue from this plan would stay in Northern Ohio. House Bill 51, which puts this plan in place, has no language to ensure these promises are kept and the Kasich Administration has since backed away from these commitments.
“Northern Ohioans pay for this Turnpike. Now, Gov. Kasich is moving forward with a plan that could raise tolls on Ohioans and then use these funds to pay for transportation projects in other parts of the state,” said State Rep. Kathleen Clyde. “With nothing in the law, we can’t be sure that tolls won’t increase and that turnpike revenues won’t be syphoned off to other parts of the state.”
When announcing the plan, the Kasich Administration made several specific claims that are not supported in House Bill 51. The following claims are not supported in House Bill 51: “More than 90 percent of new bond money will go directly to northern Ohio highway projects. Tolls would freeze for 10 years for EZ Pass users. All other toll rates would be capped at inflation.” (Source: ODOT Press Release, 12/13/12).
When questioned during committee about the why House Bill 51 did not include language to support these claims, the Administration contradicted itself: “It would be foolish to contrive some number or some goal or whatever to say we’re going to spend this much money in this place,” said Gov. Kasich’s Transportation Director, Jerry Wray.
“Hard working Ohioans who travel the Turnpike daily cannot afford toll increases. How many times will the people of Northern Ohio have to pay for the Turnpike? They are the most frequent travelers along the Turnpike and they deserve to have their tolls used for projects in their communities,” said State Rep. Matt Lundy.
Surrounding states like Indiana have seen their tolls nearly double in six years, and for trucks the increase has been even greater. In Chicago the Skyway tolls will increase by 900 percent when fully implemented in 2017.
“Ohioans in every part of the state expect honesty and integrity from their leaders and the fact that House Bill 51 does not reflect any of the promises made by Gov. Kasich is deeply troubling,” said State Rep. John Patrick Carney. “Unfortunately, this administration is more interested in pushing his agenda, instead of protecting the pocketbooks of middle class Ohioans.