The state's $1.5 billion yearly shortfall in transportation infrastructure funding is a "crisis," Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters Thursday, saying the gap had previously been obscured by bonds guaranteed by tolls on the Ohio Turnpike.
"What's happened is that with the bond money that was secured by revenues from the turnpike, that really has masked for the last few years the problem that we have,” DeWine said following an announcement of the next Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) superintendent.
DeWine, who had previously told reporters he was "shocked" to learn of the shortfall, said that he knew things were "not good" before the election but that it was only after he took office and had staff "really dig down" that he learned the severity of the matter.
"We are in a crisis, frankly," he reiterated, saying his administration owed the people of the state "candor" and that was a message he passed on to Jack Marchbanks, his nominee to lead the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), who recently testified before the Governor's Advisory Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure along with outgoing OSHP Superintendent Paul Pride.
Asked if he would propose raising the state's gas tax, a recommendation of the advisory committee, DeWine said it's a discussion to have with Ohioans.
"Part of the challenge in explaining it is people aren't seeing it yet, and they're not seeing it because this bond money has masked that and has been able to keep us on a fairly level keel. Well, what happens when this bond money is no longer there is we're going to just drop into this deep, deep cliff," DeWine said, using hand motions to illustrate the coming fall. "That's what we're trying to explain to people around the state, and it's not just the state highways -- it clearly involves township bridges, county bridges, it involves township roads, county roads, city roads and I think every local official is now looking at these numbers and is starting to say, 'Oh my, this is really going to hit us.’”
DeWine said that he had spoken to leaders in the Dayton area Wednesday who discussed the need for improvements at the airport and Route 35 between Greene and Montgomery counties, and said he had to tell them that not only would new infrastructure development be impossible without a solution, the shortfall would also threaten maintenance of existing infrastructure.
DeWine described it as both a public safety matter and an economic development one, saying that improved roadways are part of efforts to bring in new companies and increase the number of jobs in Ohio.
"So clearly we're going to have to have additional sources of revenue, and this is a process," DeWine said, adding that he's discussed it with leaders of the Ohio House and Senate. "…We don't have any choice, if Ohio's going to move forward, if Ohio is going to be able to attract jobs, if we're going to be able to protect the people of the state of Ohio, we have to fill this hole."
Asked if he thought federal infrastructure projects -- a topic in President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday -- could be beneficial, DeWine told Hannah News that he "would love (for) the federal government to come in and do wonderful things" but the state can't wait for a major infrastructure bill to address the problem.
"It's a crisis, and we have to step up and deal with it," he said.
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on February 7, 2019.