Kasich puts capital budget in motion

With Coleman at side, he hails job creation


COLUMBUS — Standing with the Democratic mayor of Columbus, Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday set the stage for Ohio to begin spending $2.4 billion on July 1 for brick-and-mortar projects across the state.

Approval of the two-year capital budget — along with expected borrowing against the Ohio Turnpike and a proposed renewal and expansion of a local public-works bond issue on the May 6 ballot — means Ohio will have taken on about $5 billion in new debt in a matter of months to build and rebuild infrastructure and create construction jobs.

“We look very carefully at what we can do from a financial view to help people across the board,” the Republican governor said. “This is a pretty significant capital bill, $2.4 billion.”

The plan holds $29.3 million alone for projects in Lucas County. Among the numerous projects in northwest Ohio that will get a share of $160 million set aside for local community projects are:

■ $16 million for Bowling Green State University’s Moseley Hall Science Laboratories.

■ $10 million to help develop alternatives to dumping silt dredged from Ohio harbors into open Lake Erie.

■ $2.5 million for Attorney General Mike DeWine’s plans for a new state forensics laboratory at BGSU.

■ $1.5 million toward a proposed $21 million transformation of part of Toledo’s Warehouse District into Hensville, a shopping, dining, residential, and concert district centered on Mud Hens baseball at Fifth Third Field.

■ $750,000 for the Toledo Zoo Aquarium toward its leafy sea dragon exhibit and a related touch-tank at Bowling Green State University for marine biology internships.

In the end, 11 of 14 top-priority project recommendations submitted by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce got funding.

“Our process worked well,” said Brian Dicken, the chamber’s vice president of public affairs who attended the ceremonial bill-signing. “It was very much a collaborative effort of the business leaders, local elected officials, and our state legislators to work through and provide those recommendations to the state.”

Officially, Mr. Kasich signed the capital budget bill late Tuesday night to ensure the state can begin spending on July 1. But on Wednesday, he appeared with Mayor Mike Coleman at a former school building in a poor South Side community that, with $2 million in state funds, will be converted into a community center with education, recreation, job-training, food assistance, and other opportunities.

The event provided another opportunity for Mr. Kasich to stand next to a Democratic mayor of a big Ohio city at a time when the governor is seeking re-election.

“I put the needs of my community above all politics,” said Mr. Coleman, who grew up in Toledo. “I’m the mayor of the city of Columbus, and Gov. Kasich has done a good thing for Columbus, and both Democratic and Republican General Assembly members. I stand with those who stand with Columbus. ... There’s a time for politics. Now is not the time.”

The capital budget is expected to create about 31,000 jobs, while the turnpike-financed construction has been estimated at about 65,000 jobs over several years.

Mr. Kasich’s budget director, Tim Keen, estimated that Ohio’s debt service will reach 4 percent of the state’s general fund budget once the capital budget and public-works borrowing is complete, assuming voters approve the latter at the polls. The Ohio Constitution caps state debt at 5 percent of the general fund.

The state-mandated borrowing of $1.5 billion by the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission for highway and bridge construction well off the turnpike corridor does not count toward the cap because that debt is guaranteed by toll revenue, not state taxes.

“I’m not saying the state is borrowing too much,” Mr. Kasich’s chief Democratic opponent, Ed FitzGerald, told The Blade’s Editorial Board on Wednesday. “This state has a long history of paying for capital projects by floating bonds with bipartisan support.”

“I do have a concern about the turnpike,” the Cuyahoga County executive said. “When the governor and Republican legislators are in other parts of the state, they brag about how they’re using turnpike revenues to do road projects there. They don’t say that, up here in northern Ohio, we’re paying twice to subsidize infrastructure. We pay the gas tax and higher tolls.”

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