Facing a Transportation Budget Shortfall, New Coalition Suggests Ohio Look at the Gas-Tax

What happens when the term of a “short-term” fix is drawing to an end? This is a question that the incoming DeWine administration will have to answer concerning massive shortfalls in the transportation budget, and the subject of last weekend’s Dispatch article Money for major Ohio road projects is gone; gas-tax hike proposed.

GOPC has commented on the sustainability of the state motor fuel tax before. The state motor fuel tax rate has remained effectively unchanged since 2005, when the state collected more than $1.712 billion in revenue from the gas tax. But by 2016, revenue collection stagnated ($1.714 billion), while costs due to inflation have increased at a rate of 29.3% over the same period. The reduction in the efficacy of the gas tax caused by inflation was masked by the short-term turnpike bonding.

In 2013, the state issued $1.5 billion in bonds against future toll revenue from the Ohio Turnpike, and generating an additional $1.5 billion through federal and local matching funds. This one-time agreement liberated state funding for infrastructure projects around the rest of Ohio, averaging $555 million per year from 2014 to 2017. But the bond money has run out, leaving state and local governments to handle the full brunt of the declining value of the unmodified gas tax.  

A multisector coalition has formed to stress to lawmakers and the public the urgency of the problem, while pushing potential solutions. The group, called Fix Our Roads Ohio (FOR Ohio), is advocating for, among other solutions, an increase in the state gas tax rate, an indexing of the future gas tax to inflation, and electric-vehicle fees. The coalition also supports returning state funding levels for transit to $44 million.

Last fall, GOPC recommended  that the state increase the amount of federal “flex funds” used for public transit by an additional $33 million annually. These funds can be used for a variety of purposes, including public transit funding. To reprogram additional funding for public transit, an increase of just  half-a-cent would generate the $33 million in state funding to cover roadway construction and maintenance through the state motor fuel tax.

GOPC is supportive of measures that increase comprehensive transportation funding, which includes funding for “fix-it first” roadway maintenance, active transportation, and transit. The Ohio Constitution restricts the use of gas tax revenues exclusively for roadway projects, but an increase in funding for roadways would free-up funding which the state receives from other sources, including federal highway funds, that can be used to fund public transportation projects in the state.