Ohio’s Future Foundation Chairman and former Congressman Jim Renacci hosted a forum on the gas tax Monday evening with Greg Lawson of The Buckeye Institute and Paul Lewis of the Eno Center for Transportation.
Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) has been pushing for an 18-cent gas tax increase, which Monday night’s panelists think might be too high. Although a controversial subject, the panelists were in agreement on one thing: the state government needs to be smarter with how it spends its money.
“I think the real opportunity is to focus on trying to make our transportation institutions more efficient and a lot of that has to do with investing smartly, not necessarily focusing on big, expansive projects, but more doing the things that voters are actually looking for, which is roads that are well maintained, buses that run on time—kind of the run-of-the-mill stuff that isn’t as exciting as a new highway or some kind of new big project, but it’s the thing that people care about everyday. It’s really kind of focusing on asset management and taking better care of what we have,” Lewis said.
Lawson agreed with the sentiment, and encouraged politicians not to get “hung up” on the “ribbon-cutting ceremony” projects.
“Let’s just be really smart about every project that we do. Government always has that shiny object thing. Everybody likes that, legislators like that, in general. Political folks like that, in general. But not everything is needed,” he said.
According to Renacci, one of the “shiny objects” that brought Ohio into the gas-tax conversation was the “bonding of the Ohio turnpike” under Gov. John Kasich’s administration
“They bonded the turnpike, borrowed $1.5 billion, and then borrowed money over a 33-year period. Now, I can tell you in the business world you normally don’t borrow for a longer period of time than the useful life of the thing you’re paying for. That would clearly be a problem,” he explained.
Lawson pointed out later in the program that Ohio’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) is spending $300 million on “debt service,” meaning the money is going towards paying off the debt for projects that have already been completed.
There aren’t, however, many alternatives to the gas tax, which is why Lawson and The Buckeye Institute are pressing for tax offsets if the fuel tax is ultimately raised.
State Sen. Rob McColley, for instance, suggested an income-tax cut to offset a gas-tax increase during a recent hearing in the Ohio Senate Transportation, Commerce, and Workforce Committee.
Several viewers of Monday night’s forum raised questions about why the government instantly jumps to raising the gas tax, and asked about what can be done to create more accountability.
“That is one way of looking at it—looking at what are the processes that we have internally at ODOT and that’s something that the auditor can certainly do, and I think that that’s always a good thing to do with very large state agencies,” Lawson said of a potential ODOT audit.
Monday night’s full forum can be watched below:
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