Push starts for $1.875B bond issue

Funds to target local water, sewer, roads


COLUMBUS — Even before lawmakers have agreed to put the question on the ballot, a campaign is under way to convince voters to approve $1.875 billion in new borrowing for water, sewer, road, and other local public works projects.

Matt Szollosi, the Democratic former state representative from Oregon who is now executive director of the Affiliated Construction Trades of Ohio, said Wednesday that this spending, in addition to what would be generated through recently approved borrowing against the Ohio Turnpike, could generate nearly $5 billion in investment in the state’s infrastructure.

“What our members want more than anything is the ability to go to work,” he said. “Renewal of the bonding authority of the Ohio Public Works Commission is critically important to the construction industry. With this scale of investment, $1.875 billion over 10 years, local governmental authorities will provide our employers projects to compete for and our members thousands of job opportunities.”

The program has proved popular with voters in the past, even leading lawmakers to couple its renewal nearly a decade ago with the state’s Third Frontier high-tech investment fund after voters rejected that one its first time out of the gate. Third Frontier has since been renewed independently, and now the public works program is due for its own renewal.

Despite its past support, a formal campaign is expected to be waged to win “yes” votes during the May 6 primary election to renew and expand the bond issue.

The resolution to put the question to voters passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday. A House vote is pending.

“When an emergency response vehicle is detoured because of a closed road or a weight-limited bridge, precious moments are wasted in responding to the needs of our citizens. This is a very important public safety and health aspect,” said Rep. Tim Brown (R., Bowling Green), a former Wood County commissioner who is one of the prime sponsors of the House version.

No dollar goal was attached to the campaign, but Gov. John Kasich said he may work to raise money for it.

The bond-issue renewal, turnpike borrowing, and expected funding for local projects in an upcoming capital budget have all put many of the same local government groups in the room Wednesday on the same page with Mr. Kasich.

But these groups also have been among the fiercest critics of the Kasich administration’s past state budget cuts to local governments to help patch a massive hole in the state budget.

“Eighty-five percent of all revenue that the state of Ohio collects gets distributed to local governments or entities, whether it’s Medicaid, schools, hospitals, or the local government…,” Mr. Kasich said. “Now, $8 billion in the hole and sliding credit means no work.”

He suggested drivers should keep good music to listen to in their cars because they’re going to spend a lot of time there as road crews are “shining up” the state.

“They’re really good-paying jobs, and they’re going to be around for a while,” he said.

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