Democrat lawmakers from Trumbull and Mahoning counties opposed a proposal that passed the Ohio House late Thursday that implements Republican Gov. John Kasich's plan to raise money against the Ohio Turnpike for road projects in the state.
The House bill is one of the measures making its way through the Statehouse to raise around $1.5 billion for highway projects in Ohio, like the widening of Interstate 80, by issuing bonds against the 241-mile toll road that crosses northern Ohio.
In the Senate, some informal hearings have been held on it by the Transportation Committee and more action is expected over the next couple weeks, said the committee's ranking Democrat, state Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard.
State Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, called Kasich's plan ''ill-conceived,'' saying it will harm one of the premier roadways in the U.S.
"Taking toll money from the Ohio turnpike and redistributing it to transportation projects on the other end of the state is a tremendous disservice to those who live and work in northern Ohio,'' Hagan said.
Hagan said Kasich had promised that he would dedicate 90 percent of the funding for transportation projects in northern Ohio.
A truck drives past a sign for the Ohio Turnpike near Streetsboro. An Ohio bill would raise money against the Turnpike for road projects. AP photo
''We are now disappointed with the promise he had made and with this ill-conceived plan. What he had said he would do has become a broken promise with this bill,'' he said, noting that now the money believed to be for northeastern Ohio would go to other projects throughout the state.
Earlier in the day, Mahoning County Auditor Mike Sciortino and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni said they are leery of the proposal because Kasich said before that 90 percent of the money would go to projects in northeast Ohio, but the measure that passed the House Finance Committee on Wednesday did not contain that language.
The omission, Schiavoni said, was puzzling because the governor has repeatedly said that northeast Ohio would receive a majority of the funds raised. Residents in this part of the state, who heavily travel the turnpike, are being asking to contribute tax dollars to other parts of Ohio.
''We're asking them to pay tolls to build bridges in Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus,'' said Schiavoni during a news conference at Mahoning County Democrat Party headquarters in Boardman. ''That's not fair.''
Sciortino said the only way to keep Kasich accountable to his pledge is to have it guaranteed in writing.
''If the governor intended to honor these promises, they would be in the legislation,'' Sciortino said.
State Rep. Tom Letson, D-Warren, said ''this is the same thing that they complained about President Obama's stimulus package, that it was one time money, which this is and that's not the way we should be funding projects, except this is one time money, the State of Ohio, the users of the turnpike are going to pay back and the promises the governor made about 90 percent of the projects being in northern Ohio, a freeze on what the tolls are going to be, none of that is in the bill.''
Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Faulkner said the goal is to spend as much of the money in northeast Ohio as possible.
''At the end of the day, motorists in the Mahoning Valley are going to want to see their roads built, they want to drive on safe bridges and they don't care about a couple of politicians in Columbus squabbling over a decimal point,'' Faulkner said.
Faulkner said there is no money to do the highway with taking the bonding route, which would allow in some cases, work to begin this year.
Cafaro, the only Democrat on the Transportation Committee that represents an area where the turnpike runs, said hearings in the Senate should begin next week and last two weeks before a vote.
Among her concerns are how much of the proceeds will actually be invested in northern Ohio, toll freezes and the potential to supplant fuel tax revenue to other parts of the state.