Ohio drivers will begin paying more at the pump in July, and not everyone is happy with the decision.
Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation April 3 to increase the state gas tax by 10.5 cents per gallon, and an additional 19 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. He originally proposed an 18-cent increase for standard gas but was encouraged by state Republicans to lower that amount.
The state House of Representatives approved DeWine’s fuel tax, part of the governor’s two-year transportation budget, with a vote of 70-27; the Senate followed with a 22-10 vote.
The increase will add $865 million annually in gas tax revenue for the purpose of repairing state roads and bridges.The total will be divided at $524 million for state repairs and $381 million for local jobs.
The gas tax hike places Ohio within the top 10 highest rates in the nation.
DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney said the gas tax increase was necessary due to a “structural” deficit in the state budget. He said Ohio has a $390 million debt payment attached to ongoing improvements to its turnpike.
“The way the governor would put it, the credit cards were maxed out,” Tierney said.
A commission put together by DeWine recommended an increase in the motor vehicle tax, calling it a reliable resource. Tierney said an approximately $700 million surplus in the state’s general revenue fund isn’t enough to meet the need. He said because the amount of state revenue generated for the remainder of the year is uncertain, using the surplus for infrastructure repair would be imprudent.
“The governor is looking at the proposal from about 10 years out. The general revenue surplus could only be used once,” he said.
In a statement, District 1 Senator Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) said he’s been consistent in his view that any tax increases must be offset by tax cuts so Ohioans don’t pay more for essential government services.
“Largely, the people of the first Senate district agree, and I promised those constituents that I would only support a gas tax increase if there were offsetting tax cuts,” the statement said. “I believe in the importance of doing what we told our constituents we would do, which is why I voted ‘no’ on the transportation budget.”
District 47 State Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Twp.) also voted against the budget.
“I don’t want to increase the overall tax burden on Ohioans,” he said. “I would like to see a portion of the general revenue fund supplement road improvements and infrastructure.”
Merrin said DeWine proposed the increase “because the general consensus was they want a gas tax to solely pay for that.”
According to District 2 Senator Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), the governor’s transportation budget not only invests strongly in the state’s infrastructure, it improves transparency and accountability, and delivers tax relief to low-income Ohioans.
She said her vote for the gas tax increase came after she and District 89 State Representative Steve Arndt (R-Port Clinton) worked to include budget language allowing for state tourism areas to apply for funds to maintain infrastructure leading there.
Gavarone said the transportation budget, including the gas tax, wasn’t an option.
“I chose to improve our infrastructure, and thanks to that decision northwest Ohio is an even more attractive place for job creators to do business, and I am looking forward to the increased economic growth that will come to our region,” she said.
“I also received input from elected officials, community leaders and constituents throughout the district. The overwhelming response was that voting for the transportation budget, while not a perfect bill, was in the best interest of my constituents.”
Local feelings about the gas tax increase are mixed.
Karen Dominique of Wauseon said it wouldn’t be her choice, “but if it has to be done, yes, I support it. Our infrastructure is something that we completely take for granted. Everyone assumes someone else is going to take care of it, and, really, it’s on our shoulders to provide that for not only ourselves but for the future generations.”
It might be a good thing, provided gas prices stay level and don’t hurt low-income families, said Stephen Hallett of Delta. “And as long as they use it for the roads, and not for all their little pet projects,” he added.
Barbie Zilch, visiting Fulton County from Cincinnati, said the gas tax increase will only make the economy worse.
“Nobody’s going to want to do road traveling anymore,” she said. “Airline prices are getting higher, so driving places was the new American norm, but it’s not going to be that with a new tax increase like this.”
Heather Couts, a Haas Door employee, said the state should fund its infrastructure with the taxes it’s routinely collecting.
“We are already paying taxes for repairing the roads and structures like that, and it makes it hard for people who have kids that need to get places when the gas (price) goes up,” she said.
But Roy Tooman of McComb, Ohio, believes the gas tax increase is a good idea “as long as it doesn’t hit us too hard.” He concedes it will hurt his wallet a bit, since he and his wife collectively drive about 50,000 miles each year.
“I don’t think they should hit the diesel so hard,” Tooman added. “They’re moving a lot of the goods, and what it’s going to do is raise our prices in the end.”
Richard Flores of Wauseon isn’t fazed by the tax hike. “I’ve got an economical car, and I only work from just out of town,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me where they get the money out of…It sounds right to me.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.