The Ohio House of Representatives Thursday approved and sent to the Senate a two-year, $7.1 billion Transportation Budget Bill [TBB] that funds for four state agencies primarily responsible for the construction and maintenance of the state highway system, funding local infrastructure projects, and ensuring the public’s safety.
Speaker of the Ohio House William G. Batchelder (R-Medina) was pleased with the bipartisan passage of TBB [Substitute House Bill 35] from the people's chamber.
"To improve Ohio’s economy, we must ensure that we have a strong infrastructure in place to support economic development and population growth," Batchelder said in prepared remarks. "The transportation budget as passed by the House appropriates vital funding for Ohio’s various infrastructure and public safety projects that will ultimately put Ohio in a better position to grow, develop, and compete in a highly competitive national economy."
The budget bill allocated to the Ohio Department of Transportation $5.6 billion, the Ohio Department of Public Safety $1.3 billion, and the Public Works Commission and the Development Services Agency a combined $136.8 million.
According to House communication staff, Sub. H.B. 35 takes into account a number of factors, including moderation in the growth of state motor fuel tax revenue, flat federal funding with an uncertain outlook, rising construction costs, and the proposed use of Turnpike bond proceeds to fund certain major new construction projects.
Other TBB provisions include:
- Eliminates the requirement that holders of a valid out-of-state driver’s license pass a written test before receiving an Ohio driver’s license
- Allows counties to reimbursed for the relocation of county utilities due to state transportation projects
- Lowers the fee on late vehicle registrations from $20 to $10 and extends the grace period to 30 days from seven days
- Makes technical clarifications to language creating the CAT Motor Vehicle Fuel Tax Receipts Fund
- Creates a six-member Joint Legislative Task Force on the Department of Transportation to study the funding needs of the department and issue a report by December 15, 2014
- Allows the Department of Transportation to create a real-time traffic information program for travelers, mirroring House Bill 514 from the 129th General Assembly.
- Compels that funds associated with the mutual termination of the Department of Natural Resources lease with the City of Cleveland for Cleveland Lakefront parks be used only for upgrades to the parks involved in the lease agreement
Ross McGregor (R-Springfield), Chairman of the House Finance and Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, said, "Substitute House Bill 35 is a fiscally responsible, comprehensive budget proposal that addresses the increasing needs of Ohioans in a conscientious manner. I want to thank the members of the Transportation Subcommittee for their hard work and commitment they showed while working on this budget."
The importance of transportation infrastructure
In President Obama's State of the Union address, he proposed a $50 billion infrastructure initiative, $40 billion of which would be devoted to a "fix-it-first" program targeted at urgent improvements such as "structurally deficient" bridges. The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on "The Federal Role in America’s Infrastructure," focusing on the importance of infrastructure for the U.S. Economy and the federal role in its preservation and expansion. The U.S. Chamber chimed in with its own "Transportation Infrastructure Summit," a day-long gathering to "explore transportation infrastructure challenges and promising solutions" with prominent industry representatives."
C. Kenneth Orski, Editor/Publisher of Innovation News Briefs, wrote in his last opinion piece that no one should expect the next federal surface transportation bill to be a massive multi-year measure funded with hundreds of billions of dollars devoted to infrastructure. More likely, he said, the next transportation authorization will take the form of yet another short-term bill funded at current spending levels, which a senior state DOT official believes will be enough to allow most states to maintain and preserve their transportation infrastructure in a state of good repair.
Askew says keep a lookout for the transition from funding for financing major transportation projects. As some groups like the Road and Transportation Builders Association sees it, the most feasible way to build future transportation megaprojects will be through project financing, including tolling, and public-private partnerships.
"Funding them on a pay-as-you-go basis with gas tax revenues through the congressional authorization and appropriations process may no longer be either affordable or practical," Orski concluded.
The six-member Joint Legislative Task Force created in the TBB and its mission to study the funding needs of the department and issue a report by December 15, 2014 is an acknowledgment that how the infrastructure will be paid for in the future will be a departure from how it was done in the past.
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