Use rainy day fund for roads, not gas tax hike

New Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine wants legislators to increase fuel taxes by 18 cents per gallon, up from the current 28 cents. He also suggests linking the tax to the consumer price index, so when the cost of living goes up, so will the gas tax — indefinitely and with no cap.

Representatives in Ohio’s statehouse last week said no to the plan and called, instead, for a 10.7-cent increase to be phased in over three years. It does not include any annual increase tied to the CPI index. Now the matter heads to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

We think both ideas should be dead on arrival. Instead, the governor and lawmakers should pay for Ohio’s needed road and bridge repairs using funds in the state’s $2 billion rainy-day fund. It’s raining, after all, on Ohio’s crumbling roads and bridges.

Jack Marchbanks, DeWine’s director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, told us last week he considers the proposed tax increases to be a “user fee” of sorts for all of us who use Ohio roadways. He said the proposed taxes would be minimal, and even at 18 cents, still would not be enough to get Buckeye State roads and bridges back into decent condition.

We disagree with his assessment and think the additional tax would have a lasting negative effect on Ohioans and the local economy.

Nearly everyone in Ohio drives a gasoline-powered motor vehicle, and even those who don’t will feel the effects of a gasoline tax increase because of increased fees they pay to those who provide their transportation.

The tax will negatively affect the economy because motorists now can enjoy a little extra disposable income triggered by savings at the pump since gasoline prices have dipped.

Businesses will be affected by the increased costs of transportation, shipping or even employee mileage reimbursements.

Yes, this tax will have a negative impact on all Ohioans, but perhaps the biggest impact will be felt by Ohio’s working poor.

And let’s not forget government’s notorious inefficiencies.

We are not convinced that funds already being allocated for repairs to Ohio’s roads and bridges can’t be better spent.

Money spent on things like sound barriers, architecture on bridges designed to be aesthetically appealing, elaborate lighting or signage must drive up costs when motorists really care most about the condition of the infrastructure under their tires.

We further are disappointed that our new governor steered clear of the topic and the possibility of increasing the gas tax during his campaign last year. In fact, his campaign literature contained zero reference to needed improvements to infrastructure, including any possibility of an increased gasoline tax for funding.

During his visit to the Tribune Chronicle in October, we directly asked DeWine about his plans for upgrading Ohio’s roads and infrastructure. DeWine’s response offered little, with him saying only that he would be looking closely at spending and project plans at the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The closest DeWine came to touching on the possibility of an increased gas tax during last year’s campaign was in July when WKSU public radio in Kent reported the then-candidate told a group of agencies if he were elected, he would appoint a blue-ribbon task force to study how to best pay for infrastructure fixes, noting such a panel would need to make recommendations quickly. He said if a tax hike were suggested, he’d be open to a “candid conversation” on that.

Upon DeWine’s election, he appointed the committee, for which local attorney Matt Blair, who works for Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith, was chosen. He told our reporter last week that he and 14 other committee members met in Columbus a few weeks ago to review testimony and reading material.

Marchbanks said the information given to the committee for review was provided by his office based on ODOT studies. The committee determined a range in which the raise should be, and the governor’s office pinned down the 18 cents.

With the committee meeting in Columbus just once to review what Blair described as a “fairly complicated process,” it sounds as if Marchbanks and DeWine had their plan in place long before the committee gathered. So why couch the 18-cent proposal with a committee recommendation?

We urge legislators to say no to the gas tax increase. Instead they should call for more efficiencies in spending and then look to the pot of money labeled the state’s rainy-day pot for funding of sorely needed bridge and road repairs.