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Published: Saturday, 12/4/2010

Kasich mulls cuts, leasing of turnpike

COLUMBUS — A long-term lease of the Ohio Turnpike remains on the table for Governor-elect John Kasich as he prepares to enact a two-year budget next year to wipe out a potential revenue shortfall as wide as $8 billion.

“That's an entity up there that has had a life of its own,” the incoming Republican governor said. “We, of course, are going to look at that.

“I don't know if the capital markets are such that a deal like that would make sense now,” Mr. Kasich said. “I will tell you that I got wind of the fact that they wanted to do some sort of a lease of the rest areas for five years. Five years isn't going to get the job done. … People are not going to make an investment and then have their investment run out.”

He emphasized that no decision has been made.

“It's probably not the right time …,” he said. “But there is a lot of money on the sidelines…, companies just sitting there holding money. So we'll see. … You know Indiana did it and had great success with it. We definitely have not taken it off the table.”

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels leased operation of the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to an Australian-Spanish group for 75 years for an up-front lump sum of $3.8 billion. Ohio Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell proposed a similar plan for the 241-mile turnpike in 2006, but the idea ran out of gas along with his campaign.

Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, whom Mr. Kasich defeated last month, has characterized the idea as a gimmick.

“The governor is not convinced that selling or leasing the turnpike is a responsible or viable option,” spokesman Allison Kolodziej said. “The governor hasn't and doesn't support the approach other states have taken like Indiana. He believes Ohio should not outsource decision-making authority for a major transportation asset to a foreign company.”

Shortly before Mr. Kasich spoke before the group, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation debated the issue as it adopted policy positions on a wide array of issues for the coming year. It voted to generally support exploration of state asset privatization, but it adopted language specifically opposing such talk when it comes to the turnpike.

“It wasn't too long after Illinois privatized that we went through the gates and saw costs almost across the board, even for food, were twice as much as on the turnpike in Ohio and Indiana. It was amazing,” said Blanche Lange, a grain and soybean farmer from the Green Springs area of Seneca County.

“The Ohio Turnpike is paying for itself and is a vital thoroughfare for us in northern Ohio,” she said. “It's vital for us to move our commodities, and we need to have a strong transportation network.”

Mr. Kasich urged the Farm Bureau to support him as he makes potentially unpopular decisions to balance the next two-year budget. He has vowed not to raise taxes and repeated his vow to restore a 4.2 percent cut in Ohio's income tax worth about $800 million over two years that was shelved last year to patch a hole in the budget.

That has schools, universities, state employees, local governments, libraries, and human service advocates bracing for potentially deep cuts that Mr. Kasich has yet to detail.

“You're going to hear a lot of whining,” he told the crowd. “You're going to hear a lot of complaining.”

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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