COLUMBUS, Ohio — The battle over a gas tax increase has officially kicked off in the Ohio Statehouse.
Since taking office, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has insisted that a gas tax was critically necessary to preserving and repairing the state’s decaying roads and bridges. Though many in the state on both sides of the political aisle agreed that some form of revenue increase would be necessary, the real question was exactly how much would the increase would be.
In his State of the State Address on Tuesday, as previously reported, DeWine explicitly stated that his proposed gas tax increase of 18 cents was lowest it could go:
“Members of the General Assembly, by requesting $1.2 billion dollars to fill the budget hole and meet existing needs, let me assure you that I am taking a minimalist, conservative approach, with this being the absolute bare minimum we need to protect our families and our economy.
He intended for it to go into effect immediately with no tax break offsets, and would peg it to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), thereby ensuring it would increase over time as the economy grew.
However, prior to that speech, Ohio Republican State Speaker of the House Larry Householder directly contradicted this assessment with his own number:
We think that that’s probably high. We believe the number is more around 10 cents to 12 cents as far as an increase that’s needed and we think that probably needs to be phased in over a period of three years.
It appears that the House Finance committee, at least for the time being, is siding with Speaker Householder, since last night it officially slashed the governor’s tax to “10.7 cents per gallon on gasoline and 20 cents per gallon on diesel.”
The committee also changed the tax to be phased in over three years and “unpegged” it from the CPI. Normally in such a negotiation there would be room for compromise somewhere in the middle. However, DeWine, by taking the position that his increase is the “absolute bare minimum,” leaves little chance of compromise with equanimity.
In an interview Wednesday, Federalism Committee Chair John Becker took a different approach, asserting that the real issue isn’t the size of the increase, but that the tax increase comes with equal tax breaks offsets elsewhere.
“I’m a strong believer in infrastructure projects including new highways. Obviously, they have to be paid for somehow,” he stated. “If increasing the gas tax it the best way to do that, then so be it.” However, no matter how high or low the increase is, he asserted there should be a “corresponding income tax, cap tax, or some other tax reduction to compensate for it so that way it’s revenue neutral.”
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