Thursday’s joint committee meeting to find a compromise on the controversial gas tax hike appears to have ended inconclusively.
As previously reported, the gas tax hike has proved an extremely divisive start to the legislative calendar. Currently,
House Bill 62 (HB 62), the 2020-21 Ohio Transportation Budget, the first major bill proposed of newly-elected Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine’s tenure, called for an 18 cent gas tax increase. It would go into effect immediately and carry no tax offsets.
The Ohio House of Representatives revised the proposal to 10.7 cents and ordered it to be phased in over three years. Most recently, the Ohio Senate dropped the tax rate even lower to six cents. None of the proposals carry a complete tax offset. In this joint session, the legislators hope to reconcile differences, yet DeWine has maintained from day one that his 18 cent proposal is “a minimalist, conservative approach, with this being the absolute bare minimum we need to protect our families and our economy.
There were early signs that a consensus was already in the works. Shortly after the joint session commenced, Ohio Republican Mike DeWine released a statement, announcing that he and the Republican House leadership had reached a compromise. The Governor’s office and the House agreed to a, roughly, 11 cent tax increase. Of the compromise, DeWine stated: “I’m pleased that we have reached an agreement with the Speaker of the House on the transportation budget that will enable the Ohio Department of Transportation to improve and maintain safer roads, bridges, highways, and intersections across Ohio. I am hopeful that the Senate agrees to this plan as well.”
However, the six-member conference committee failed to reach a compromise. Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) has yet to make a public statement on why the Senate rejected the bill.
There’s still wide consensus by legislators that a gas tax is necessary. Meanwhile, the hike remains unpopular among voters. A recent poll found that less than 30 percent supported the tax hike while 55 percent opposed it. 15 percent remained unsure.
Providing some form of tax offsets to make the bill revenue neutral could go a great distance in making the bill more palatable with voters and the tate Senate. State groups like the Buckeye Institute continue to insist that tax offsets are essential to ensuring that the tax hike doesn’t halt the positive economic signs Ohio has seen over the past year.
Should the legislature fail to make the deadline of Sunday, the 31st, the tax couldn’t go into effect until next year. Additionally, DeWine will be handed a major political defeat by his own party only months into his tenure. A defeat that could prove disastrous for the future of the Republican party in Ohio.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to [email protected].