Ohio House OKs 10.7-cent gas tax hike
The gas tax increases would have a 3-year phase-in starting Oct. 1.
By Laura A. Bischoff
Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS — The Ohio House of Representative on Thursday voted in favor of a $7.94 billion two-year transportation budget bill that includes higher gas taxes, fees for electric and hybrid vehicles, more money for public transit and a bigger share of funding for local governments.

The bill would also no longer require a front license plate on Ohio vehicles.

Under the current version, motorists would pay 10.7-cents more per gallon of gas and 20-cents more per gallon of diesel, raising the overall motor fuel tax to 38.7-cents and 48-cents.

The gas tax increase would be phased in over two years while the diesel tax hike would be phased in over three years — both starting Oct. 1. The gas tax increase falls short of Gov. Mike DeWine’s request for an 18-cent hike, starting July 1 and tying it to inflation so it would automatically rise.

The governor is making the case that an 18-cent per gallon tax increase is the bare minimum needed to address dangerous roads and intersections. 

“If you think the roads are bad now, you haven’t seen anything yet,” DeWine said Tuesday in his State of the State address.

Under the latest version of the bill, gas tax revenue would be split 55/45 between state and local governments, compared with the current 60/40 split. Electric vehicle owners would pay a $200 annual fee, while hybrid owners would be charged $100. Public transit would be given $100 million in state funding, up from the current $33 million.

The bill, which passed 71-27 with strong bipartisan support, would also make a number of transportation-related policy changes: 

■ vehicles would no longer be required to have a front license plate; 
■ riding a skateboard while holding onto a car would be outlawed; 
■ it would be more difficult and expensive for cities to issue tickets using traffic cameras; 
■ the Ohio Department of Transportation could seek new rules on imposing variable speed limits based on highway conditions, such as weather or traffic congestion.

“The House-passed bill is far from ideal, but I appreciate the strong bipartisan acknowledgment that our state and local jurisdictions have a major revenue shortage to deal with vital transportation needs,” DeWine said Thursday.

The bill now moves to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

The House and Senate must agree on a final version later this month.

It needs to be signed into law by March 31, so it can take effect July 1 when the new state fiscal year starts.

“I plan to work with the Senate to improve the House-passed bill and work toward a final agreement that funds vital maintenance, new construction, promotes jobs, makes our state more competitive, and enhances safety for the driving public,” DeWine said.

More money for public transit
House Democrats said they fought to include some key provisions in the bill, including increasing public transit funding from $40 million per year in DeWine’s budget to $100 million per year, and shifting the breakdown of how the additional gas tax money will be distributed.

Currently, local governments get 40 percent of the revenue, but under the House-passed plan, the share would rise to 45 percent.

The public transit funding “is a historic commitment that will provide enormous benefits for people throughout Ohio,” said Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus.

Better public transportation helps Ohio’s disabled population, helps expected moms get to doctors and clinics, connects people with jobs and helps the environment, Leland said.

Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, attempted to win approval for an amendment to reduce the public transit amount back to DeWine’s proposed $40 million, but it was handily defeated.

Lawmakers react
House Finance Committee Chairman Scott Oelslager, R-Canton, described the bill as an economic development package, noting that for every $1 billion spent on transportation infrastructure there are 27,000 jobs created.

“It is no doubt probably one of the major jobs bills that we have,” said state Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire.

He added that while voting for tax increases isn’t easy, they’re necessary.

The last gas tax hike came in 2005. Advocates for increasing the tax note that inflation has eroded the buying power of Ohio’s 28-cent gas tax, Ohioans are driving more miles and putting more wear and tear on the roads and cars are more fuel efficient, which means the tax is bringing in less money per mile driven.

How our area lawmakers voted
No: Niraj Antani, John Becker, Bill Dean, Candice Keller, Kyle Koehler, Jena Powell, J. Todd Smith, Fred Strahorn, Nino Vitale.

Yes: Tom Brinkman, Jim Butler, Sara Carruthers, George Lang, Scott Lipps, Susan Manchester, Rick Perales, Phil Plummer, Paul Zeltwanger.