County commissioners from northern Ohio, including Portage County Commissioner Kathleen Chandler, are voicing concerns about the use of revenues Gov. John Kasich's plan for the Ohio Turnpike is expected to generate.
Specifically, they are seeking legislative guarantees that most of the proceeds will be used for infrastructure improvements north of U.S. 30 and that local commuters who use the turnpike on a daily basis won't be subject to increasing tolls.
Their rationale is that the turnpike, which runs east-west from the Pennsylvania to Indiana borders, is a northern Ohio highway and that the revenues Kasich is projecting ought to be used in the region where the tolls have been paid rather than being used for improvements throughout the state.
Kasich's plan for the turnpike calls for the state to borrow about $1.5 billion, through bonds issued against future tolls, to pay for infrastructure improvements. The governor says the $1.5 billion could leverage a matching amount in local and federal funding.
Lorain County Commissioner Ted Calo, who testified Feb. 26 before the Ohio House Finance Committee, noted that the governor has given assurances that the turnpike is not going to be sold or privatized, that workers will not be laid off and that proceeds from any bonds issued against the highway would be kept in northern Ohio. However, without legislation specifying how revenues are to be distributed, "there will be no way to ensure that promises are kept after the money changes hands," he said. The governor's word alone isn't law.
Chandler, a former state legislator who returned to the commissioners' office in January, co-signed Calo's testimony. Two turnpike exits are located in Portage County.
The northern Ohio officials raise a valid point. If Kasich's plan generates the revenue he projects, a great deal of money will be generated for road and bridge work.
Northern Ohio travelers -- including commuters -- have been paying tolls for the turnpike since 1955. This region ought to be the primary beneficiary of the revenues generated. A legislative guarantee is a good idea.