The state capital budget proposed this week by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislative leaders helpfully addresses the construction and maintenance needs of public schools and universities, Ohio’s physical infrastructure, and economic development projects in local communities, including Toledo. These same officials, of course, have presided over deep cuts in state aid to the operations of many of these institutions.
Still, the two-year, $2.4 billion plan would provide nearly $30 million in funding for a number of vital development and cultural initiatives in Lucas County. It would contribute $1.5 million to Hensville, a $21 million project of the nonprofit corporation that operates the Toledo Mud Hens. Hensville, which would revitalize the Warehouse District near Fifth Third Field, is critical to the revival of downtown Toledo.
The capital improvements budget also earmarks $10 million for an initiative to help clean up Lake Erie, especially its western basin. The plan would discourage the destructive practice of dumping sediment dredged from harbors into the lake, which contributes to the plague of toxic algae, and instead promote environmentally healthier disposal methods. State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) deserves recognition for his advocacy of the initiative.
The spending plan provides $23.75 million for capital projects at the University of Toledo, notably a work-force development and advanced manufacturing training center that UT would operate with local community colleges. Bowling Green State University would get $21 million for various projects, including improvements to science laboratories and creation of a criminal forensics laboratory to be overseen by the state Attorney General’s office.
Other proposed recipients of state capital aid include the Toledo Zoo’s aquarium, Imagination Station, the Valentine Theatre, and Toledo Repertoire Theater. There would be new funding for the Sylvania River Trail and for state parks in northwest Ohio. All are worthwhile uses of public dollars.
Another project aimed at reviving downtown Toledo is not funded: a parking garage under Promenade Park that is an integral element of ProMedica’s $40 million plan to move its corporate headquarters into the long-vacant Toledo Edison steam plant. The announcement of that proposal came after the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce submitted its wish list for local project funding to the state.
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins has said that the ProMedica project would be a highly deserving recipient of state aid in the capital budget. It still is. In the meantime, communication between the mayor’s office and the chamber evidently needs to improve.
The projects proposed for funding in the capital budget are not boondoggles. After years of deferred maintenance during the Great Recession, Ohio schools, universities, parks, prisons, and other public buildings all need upgrades. The Kasich administration estimates that the capital budget will create as many as 31,000 jobs.
Local initiatives, which have not received state funding in six years, also offer the prospect of creating jobs, stimulating private development, raising tax revenue, and enhancing quality of life. That is the essence of public investment.