NORTH JACKSON - Northern Ohio residents are in danger of paying toll money that will be used elsewhere, state officials say.
Residents, autoworkers and state officials expressed their displeasure with Gov. John Kasich's proposal regarding the Ohio Turnpike on Tuesday during a meeting at the United Auto Workers Local 1714 hall.
The proposal, revealed last week, involves issuing bonds backed by future tolls to pay for construction projects - 90 percent of which will be in northern Ohio.
The plan would generate $1.5 billion in new funds and up to $1.5 billion from matching local and federal funds.
Kasich's proposal was in lieu of his former plan to sell or lease the turnpike to a private company.
"It's a bad idea," said state Rep. Ronald Gerberry, D-Austintown. "The governor's proposition is taking bonding and increasing the indebtedness of the Ohio Turnpike ... taking taxes people are already paying on gas (to be) shelled out somewhere else. Nobody else is going to have to pay that tax," he said.
"People in southern Ohio are going to get their infrastructure granted and paid by people who live in northern Ohio," echoed Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman.
"More and more people are going to realize that it's very unfair," he said.
Several local residents also expressed concerns. One woman, whose husband used to work on the turnpike, said she has driven the 241-mile toll road to Cleveland for years.
"Do I want my money going elsewhere? No. I want (the turnpike) being maintained the way it used to be," said the resident, who asked not to be identified. She also cited the loss of jobs across the turnpike.
"This proposition relies on raising tolls that we pay and then subtracting the gas taxes that we are entitled to," said Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive.
FitzGerald said he and other officials are asking commissioners to allow Metropolitan Planning Organizations to analyze the real impact that this proposal will have on area residents.
Gerberry agreed. "Let's get a study on it," he said.
Of the five MPOs located along the turnpike, four have agreed to investigate the matter; they are still awaiting a response from Toledo.
FitzGerald said the MPOs, if allowed extra time by the state, will offer an unbiased look at the issue.
"It will give us an opportunity to measure the economic and tax implications (of the proposal)," he said.
The plan, which still requires legislative approval, also calls for freezing tolls for the next decade on passenger car trips of less than 30 miles that are paid for with an EZ pass; capping toll increases for longer trips and trucks at the rate of inflation; avoiding turnpike staff layoffs; and renaming the Ohio Turnpike Commission the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission.
Kasich said the proposal is a job creator, as much as 65,000 related to the construction projects.