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Government and Politics

Turnpike turmoil continues
Ohio Democrats want to make sure that Gov. Kasich keeps his word on how he'll handle the state's toll roads

Jo Ingles
Ohio Gov. John Kasich
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Democrats in the Ohio Legislature say they want to make sure Gov. Kasich keeps his promises when it comes to the Ohio Turnpike.

So, as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, they say they’ll put his promises together in the form of an amendment for lawmakers to vote on and cement into law.

Hear Ingles on Turnpike turmoil

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When Gov. Kasich rolled out his plan to issue bonds for the Ohio Turnpike at the end of last year -- and distribute the proceeds for other road projects -- he made some promises. Most of them centered around the idea that people who pay the tolls and use the turnpike in Northern Ohio on a regular basis won’t be paying the price for projects that benefit other parts of the state. 

In fact, Kasich said 90 percent of the revenue generated would go back to projects that benefit communities near the turnpike. But in recent testimony, it appears leaders at the Ohio Department of Transportation are backing off a little on that 90 percent number. Ohio Department of Transportation Jerry Wray says it’s not feasible to do that.

A straight jacket
"It would be foolish to contrive some number, goal or whatever to say we are going to spend this much money in this place," Wray said. "What we ought to be after is to say, 'We are going to get our transportation system in great shape. It’s going to be safe, connected and mobile.' That’s the goal, the actual result on the ground, not a certain number of dollars spent on an area."

A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, Steve Faulkner, says the goal remains ensuring most of the money generated from the turnpike is spent in northern Ohio, where the turnpike is. But he, too, says committing to that 90 percent number doesn’t make sense. 

"What happens if we put that 90 percent threshold in legislation and we get to it and a project isn’t nearly complete. Do we throw up our hands, and say, 'We can’t finish it because we have to stick to 90 percent because that’s what it says in the law?'  I don’t think you want to be bound to that percentage or that number.

A promise that should be kept
But Democratic State Rep. John Carney says it’s important to stick to that number because if it isn’t specified, the state could use large amounts of the money generated from the turnpike to support projects in around the state. He says the governor sold communities on his plan by promising Northern Ohio would benefit big, and the governor should make good on his word now.

"It is not acceptable to be the governor of Ohio and be dishonest with Ohioans, and that’s exactly what’s happening here," Carney says. 

Carney and other Democrats plan to put the governor’s promises, as explained last year, into legislation as an amendment that can be voted on by lawmakers. They say that’s the only way they said they can ensure what was promised is actually delivered. 

State Rep. Matt Lundy says it’s just not fair to allow the governor to promise one thing and deliver another for political purposes.

"This may be good for the governor’s re-election, but I think fiscally, it’s irresponsible," Lundy says. "It’s part of a road show to hand out checks for re-election while Ohioans are going to be paying this bill for generations to come."

Big numbers
Republicans hold a huge numerical advantage in both the Ohio House and Senate. 

The fight over the plan for the Ohio Turnpike will continue as lawmakers debate the governor's two-year budget proposal. Selling bonds on that would be paid for through turnpike tolls could raise  as much as $1.5 billion and generate 65,000 jobs.

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