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Published: Monday, 4/21/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Bonds for public works program on ballot

‘Tried, true’ issue in Ohio may expand

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich speaks during a recent news conference at the Modern Builders Supply, Inc. in Toledo. A “yes” vote on May 6 for the renewal and expansion of the State Capital Improvements Program would authorize the state to borrow an additional $1.875 billion in general obligation bonds over 10 years for water, sewer, road, bridge, solid-waste, and other local public-works projects. That’s up from $1.35 billion under the current program. Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich speaks during a recent news conference at the Modern Builders Supply, Inc. in Toledo. A “yes” vote on May 6 for the renewal and expansion of the State Capital Improvements Program would authorize the state to borrow an additional $1.875 billion in general obligation bonds over 10 years for water, sewer, road, bridge, solid-waste, and other local public-works projects. That’s up from $1.35 billion under the current program.
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COLUMBUS — It’s one of the few things on which Gov. John Kasich and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald agree.

So do the Ohio Republican and Democratic parties, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and the AFL-CIO.

On May 6, voters will be asked to renew and expand the State Capital Improvements Program. Voters created it 27 years ago and have renewed it twice, most recently in 2005.

A “yes” vote would authorize the state to borrow an additional $1.875 billion in general obligation bonds over 10 years for water, sewer, road, bridge, solid-waste, and other local public-works projects. That’s up from $1.35 billion under the current program.

The current program issues $150 million in grants and loans a year. Under the latest proposal, spending would climb to $175 million a year for the first five years and then $200 million for the second five y ears.

A newly formed organization, Strong Ohio Communities, is raising money to mount a “modest campaign” to promote another “yes” vote, despite an apparent lack of organized opposition.

“This is a tried-and-true program,” said Chan Cochran, a consultant working for the campaign. “It’s supported by people of both political stripes and nears unanimous support in the General Assembly because it is so important for local governments.

“We need to get the message out,” he said. “We need to let [voters] know it’s there and remind them that 11,500 projects have been done under this program. Even more will be done in the future if it is renewed.

“I think support is measured by the fact that all 88 county engineers have signed on as their county chairperson on this,“ he said. ”They will carry the bulk of the campaign effort.”

What little opposition that has emerged over the years has stemmed largely from concerns about government borrowing. The Ohio Constitution limits the amount of its general fund dedicated to debt service — principal and interest payments — to 5 percent of its general fund.

Mr. Kasich’s budget director, Tim Keen, has estimated the state will be at 4 percent once it completes this bond issue and another for a $2.4 billion, two-year capital budget for bricks-and-mortar projects.

In the absence of any organized opposition, the Ohio Ballot Board wrote the obligatory argument for a “no” vote that was presented in newspaper advertising on the issue. It noted that the bond issues may have a life of up to 30 years.

“Issue 1 not only represents an increase in the amount of borrowed money and spending on local infrastructure as compared to previous years, but it also comes sooner than voters expected,” the argument reads. “When Ohioans approved the last round of general obligation bonds in 2005, they expected it to last for a full 10 years.”

The public-works program has been so popular that lawmakers coupled it in 2005 with the state’s then-new Third Frontier high-tech investment fund after the latter was rejected at the polls on its own. Even with the added burden of Third Frontier, the joint bond issue passed with 54 percent of the vote.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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