It’s widely known that the state budget contained major cuts to local governments by slashing the Local Government Fund – a revenue-sharing arrangement that sends a portion of tax receipts to counties, cities and townships.

What has been less widely reported is that, in a separate piece of legislation, the administration reduced funding for the state’s “major new” construction program – funds for new highway and bridge construction – versus the previous transportation budget.  Compared to $317 million in fiscal year 2011 (the last year of the prior administration), the Kasich budget appropriates just $60 million in Fiscal 2012 and $123 million in Fiscal 2013 out of a $5.5 billion two-year budget.

What does this mean? The state’s list of major new construction projects starts running a deficit this year, stalling planned projects around the state. These are projects important to local communities like the I-70/71 Split in Columbus, the reconstruction of I-75 in Dayton and the replacement of the I-90 Innerbelt bridge and West Shoreway projects in Cleveland. (Showing its tone-deafness to local priorities, the Kasich administration recently threw cold water on the Shoreway project, assigning it zero points out of ten for “economic impact” even while the City ranks it among its top redevelopment priorities and points to hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in new development in anticipation of its completion – linking neighborhoods to the city’s waterfront.)

Separately, every two years the state passes a capital budget to fund facility construction and maintenance. While primarily a funding vehicle for state projects, it is customary for a small portion of the funding in the bill to be set aside for local projects such as museums, parks and civic improvements. In a typical $1.5 billion capital bill, around $120 million is reserved for House and Senate leaders to allocate to projects in their members’ districts. In 2008, the capital budget included funding for the Columbus Zoo and Scioto Mile project, Youngstown Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati’s Riverfront Park and Museum Centers, among others.

Recently, Kasich’s budget director, Tim Keen, issued a memo indicating that in the upcoming capital bill, no community projects would receive funding. In Keen’s words: “These projects are nice to have, but not necessities.”

So what does this all add up to? Deliberate policy choices, made by the Kasich administration, to slash funding for local construction projects. In each case, there was capacity available to issue bonds to fund the projects that the administration chose not to use.

Now they are using this very same lack of funding for local projects to strong-arm locals into backing their plans to privatize the Ohio Turnpike. Leasing to a private operator, they say, could result in the state receiving a multi-billion dollar lump sum payment that can be used to fund construction projects – projects the state itself has chosen not to fund in its own budgets. They recently enlisted county engineers and construction contractors to speak with reporters, urging the state to move forward with a study of the feasibility of a Turnpike lease. County Engineers and Construction Contractors are among those with the most to gain from an infusion of new money for transportation projects, so one can assume they were easily convinced to accept a role in selling the proposal in exchange for funding for their projects once the privatization check clears.

A hilarious part of the sales job for the Turnpike is a recent promise by the Kasich administration to spend “at least half” of the money from any privatization scheme in the counties north of U.S. Route 30. Hilarious because 49% of the state’s population, according to the census, live in the counties through which US30 passes or to their north. In other words, Kasich is going to spend half the money on projects for half of the state. Quite the concession.

ODOT recently announced it had hired accounting firm KPMG to assist it in studying whether to proceed with privatizing the Turnpike. As that project moves forward, expect the sales job by the Kasich administration to kick into high gear. Legislators must first approve any request for proposals the administration issues to engage a vendor for a privatized turnpike. Facing elections next fall, legislators will need to be convinced that giving the administration a blank check will pay off for their constituents. For the Ohioans who pay the tolls, having half of their money siphoned off and used to buy the votes of legislators in the rest of the state is going to be a hard sell.

  • Anastasjoy

    Yes, we get a lump sum for leasing the turnpike for 50 or 60 or 75 years – and then in two years the money is gone. What then? And any deal that does not earmark ALL the money for Northern Ohio is a bad deal considering the economic and infrastructure hit the region will take as a result of this. For instance, I think most of the most should be put in escrow for repairs over 50 or 60 or 75 years to parallel highways that will take an increased beating as tolls go up. I drive those highways already to save on tolls and have watched the truck traffic increase radically. 

    What we really need is a different governor. This one is like a little brat, breaking ALL the kids’ toys.

  • Anonymous

    Wish we had a RECALL election right here in this state.

    Go Wisconsin.

  • Dmoore2222

    If this fool thinks he can win this fight then he is much stupider than I gave him credit for. This will be another instance where he’ll unite usually opposing forces against him. I’m astounded that a guy who has been in politics for most of his working life has such dull political instincts. I can already hear the collective groan of his party who is just trying to find a way of surviving next November, not squaring off against Western Shore or Mahoning Valley folks who have already suffered enough. I can’t wait to see this.

    Keep digging, Johnny. And make the hole big enough for the rest of your party.

  • very nice post! thank you

  • Anonymous

    Maybe he wouldn’t need so much extortion money if he would stop giving the treasury to Wendy’s, Marathon, Sears, etc.  I wonder what kind of “Christmas Bonus” he will give his staff?  I am sure he will give a golden Cross pen and pencil sets engraved with his name to all the county engineers who support him on this idea.
    Kasich is a bona fide weasel that should end up as road hash on the turnpike.  The man belongs on Pluto, as far away from mankind as possible (“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it!”). What a slime ball.

  • Anonymous

    Loss of construction projects will also result in loss of jobs.  I don’t think the King has figured out this connection yet.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I fully expect that the sales pitch for privatizing the Turnpike will include a heavy emphasis on all the construction jobs it will generate. Nevermind the exact same people have argued Obama’s stimulus was a failure because the resulting construction jobs were only temporary.

  • Green Iris

    He doesn’t care,
    they didn’t make large enough campaign donations for him to bother with.
    or employ enough lobbyists

  • Dmoore2222

    Very well said. Oh, and don’t forget the ravaging of land that will happen with fracking.  

  • Anonymous

    Privatizing the turnpike (like all of Weasel John’s self-serving, hairbrained schemes) should be put up for a referendum. Let the voters decide. Let’s see just how far he gets.

  • Anonymous

    No referendum, no serious conversations with the public, no choice on this issue because that is just not the Kasich way!  There is no voice of reason in Columbus because the Gang Of Pirates has control – they can do as they like and get away with it and you can believe me, they will do the worst.  Never mind that they have three INDEPENDENT and politically unbiased reports that say selling or leasing the Turnpike to a private operator is a BAD idea, they are willing to spend another million and a half to put together THEIR OWN version which will most certainly say what a great deal it would be (at least for Kasich the Hun).  After issue 2 Wray, Kasich, Batchelder and the rest can hardly wait to stick one thumb in the eye of the voters and the other one in the plum pie. Someone is going to get big bucks from this and it won’t be you or me!

  • good think!

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