Ohio highways and expressways are about to become a little safer, thanks to a shift that began five years ago in how the Ohio State Highway Patrol is funded.
Before, the agency relied on Ohio's gasoline sales tax for funding. In the future, most funding will come from license and registration fees. That's significant: Gasoline sales taxes don't generate a dependable funding stream. When the price of fuel goes up, people drive less or find more energy-efficient means of transportation. Income from license and registration fees is more stable.
With reliable funding in place, the highway patrol is hoping to increase its trooper ranks by 17.2 percent this fall. That means more troopers on the road to nab speeders, as well as more manpower for other public-safety functions troopers perform, such as drug busts.
"There's a lot of emphasis on training the troops for drug intervention," Joseph Andrews, patrol spokesman, said.
The patrol loses an average of nearly five troopers a month to attrition. The current staffing level is 1,043 troopers, well below the patrol's peak of 1,600.
The highway patrol did not recruit classes for two years, from 2007 to 2009. It has since had classes that graduated in April of 2011 and February of 2012. It costs more than $40,000 to put a cadet through the patrol's 23-week training course. Entry-level troopers are paid about $50,000 a year.
Not all of the 180 cadets it is recruiting for two academy classes later this year likely will graduate. But based on past experience, about 80 percent of them will make the grade.
Former Gov. Bob Taft began the drive to decrease the highway patrol's reliance on gas-tax revenue in 2004. In 2008, a task force convened by then-Gov. Ted Strickland recommended the shift. Nine license or registration fees were changed or enacted to fund the agency.
Travelers along the Ohio Turnpike, I-75, and other state and interstate highways in Ohio will be well served by this bipartisan effort.