COLUMBUS — The Ohio House on Wednesday overwhelmingly supported a $7.8 billion, two-year transportation and public safety budget that would experiment with varying speed limits to regulate traffic flow on selected highways.
It would also authorize privately run local deputy registrars to increase their service fees for license and registration processing and give counties the option of raising their license tax by $5 a vehicle to raise more money for road and bridge improvements.
House Bill 26 passed 83-13 and now goes to the Senate.
The sole negative vote from northwest Ohio came from state Rep. Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township). He said after the vote that he opposed it because of the tax and fee increases it contains.
“The citizens of my district did not send me to Columbus to take more money out of their pockets,” he said.
The transportation budget must reach Gov. John Kasich’s desk by April 1 if the state hopes to begin spending the money with the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
The measure appropriates the funding for road projects across the state using revenue from the gas tax, the federal highway fund, and turnpike tolls. It does not raise the state’s gas tax.
“This is a declining revenue source,” said Rep. Robert McColley (R., Napoleon), the bill’s sponsor. “Ohioans are paying less gas tax now than they have in years past. It’s actually getting below the $8 billion mark.”
Beginning in 2018, the Ohio Department of Transportation will experiment with changing speed limits at different times of the day and temporarily opening paved road berms as extra lanes to reduce congestion on I-670 through Columbus, portions of I-90 near Cleveland, and State Rt. 33 west of Columbus.
Among other things, the bill:
● Creates a pilot project in Lucas, Clinton, Montgomery, and Stark counties in which a truck registration fee would be reduced from $30 to $15 to see if it would lead to trucking companies registering more of their vehicles in Ohio.
● Allows county commissioners to impose an additional $5 license tax, up to a new cap of $25, to raise more money for local repairs. This could be done directly via a commissioners’ vote or by putting the question first to voters.
● Authorizes privately operated deputy registrars at the local level to increase their service fees for registrations, licenses, and identification cards and their renewals from $3.25 to $5.25.
● Makes it a secondary offense for a vehicle to lack a front license plate in addition to the rear plate while legally parked. This means the car cannot be ticketed solely for lacking the front plate. However, it remains a primary offense while the vehicle is in motion or is illegally parked.
● Provides a $10 million increase for public transit systems.
Rep. Jack Cera (D., Bellaire), the ranking Democrat on the House Finance Committee, said the bill falls short in meeting the needs for highway maintenance and construction and public transit. He said a study committee last session offered little to address the issues.
“I would probably say that the committee kicked the can down the road, but soon that can’s going to get lost in a pothole,” he said.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.