Clamor over the latest Turnpike proposal is further proof that the issue is 100 percent politically charged by local Democrats. The only legitimate concern is whether northern Ohio will lose its share of the state gas tax, but those complaining can ultimately control that.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich once wanted to lease the Ohio Turnpike to a private contractor. His plan was to use money that the contractor would pay up front to fund transportation projects, mostly in the northern part of the state.
Democrats opposed the plan with warrantless claims about a private contractor raising tolls and failing to maintain the 241-mile toll road.
So Kasich last week proposed an alternative. The state would issue bonds backed by future tolls to pay for transportation projects, 90 percent of which would be in northern Ohio. With local and state matches, this is expected to generate $3 billion.
Leasing to a private firm may have been better. In Indiana, for example, such a lease generated $3.8 billion and resulted in the largest road and bridge improvement program in state history. In the last three years tolls in Indiana have been more stabile than in Ohio, which has raised them twice in that span.
On Tuesday, State Rep. Ronald Gerberry, D-Austintown, and State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, joined other local Democrat officeholders in denouncing the plan. They said Kasich would play a shell game, taking gas tax money that would normally be spent in northern Ohio and using it to fund projects in the south so that the Turnpike bond would not result in any benefit for those of us in the north.
Nevermind that there is no indication that this will happen. Nevermind that the state legislature, on which Gerberry and Schiavoni have more influence than Kasich, must approve. Nevermind that the governor's administration has already identified a number of northern Ohio projects, including the widening of Interstate 80 in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, as beneficiaries of this plan. Nevermind that we are already getting jipped by having a toll road in the north while those in the south can travel state Route 70 for free. Nevermind that those criticizing the plan have not a single alternative idea of their own.
Which all goes to show that the resistance is 100 percent, pure partisanship. In opposing the plan, the local Democrats were rallying behind Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald, who is emerging as the most likeable opponent to run against Kasich.
Local Democrats should start prioritizing transportation projects instead of complaining about the funding mechanism. Completing U.S. Route 422 from northern Trumbull County to Parkman comes to mind. Rail enhancements to capitalize on the shale boom might be important also.
The Turnpike, which turned 58 years old earlier this month, runs through 13 counties. Some of those counties will jump ahead of Mahoning and Trumbull because they have advocates such as State Rep. Bill Patmon, D-Cleveland. Even before Kasich made his announcement, Patmon told the Plain Dealer, ''Our infrastructure in Northeast Ohio is falling apart. If the governor comes up with a plan that makes sense, I'm willing to support it. We're not doing our job if we don't take a close look at what he proposes.''
That much rational thinking from the Mahoning Valley's state legislators should not be too much to ask for.