Gov. DeWine Argues For More Road Funds, Details Some Budget Plans In State Of The State Address
Gov. Mike DeWine pushed the case Tuesday for a gas tax increase and additional funding for a range of initiatives, including public health and water quality improvements during his first State of the State address.
Mr. DeWine delivered those messages in a return to the Statehouse, where he began his legislative career and where the House chamber was left vacant for the last several annual speeches as former Gov. John Kasich took his addresses on the road.
While he provided some clues to his operating budget approach during his 45-minute address, a key focus was on the transportation budget at hand (HB 62), as he spent the first 15 minutes reiterating the argument his administration has made in introducing the road and bridges spending plan.
"We now face a crisis today that must be addressed immediately," he said of the condition of Ohio's transportation infrastructure.
The looming funding crunch for the upkeep and modernization of the system, he said, has been "masked" by the issuance of turnpike bonds that have been "propping us up." while conditions have continued to deteriorate.
"We simply should not borrow anymore," said Mr. DeWine, who has proposed an 18 cents-per-gallon increase in the gas tax.
"We are heading to a very dangerous point" if more funding isn't secured, he said. "Each month it will get worse and worse…. More Ohioans will get hurt and more Ohioans will die."
The governor said the Department of Transportation is now a record $4 billion in debt and is paying annual debt service of $390 million annual debt service, adding that he has asked the agency's director to cut wherever possible.
He called the requested $1.2 billion to fill the budget "hole" a "conservative approach" and the "absolute bare minimum" that is required.
"It is the smallest amount we can add that will keep our families safe," he said.
Mr. DeWine then pivoted to the upcoming two-year operating budget, which is due to the legislature on March 15. He indicated increased spending would be proposed for a number of state program areas.
"It is time for us to invest in Ohio," Mr. DeWine said. "Simply put, it is time for us to invest in our future."
While not laying out specific funding totals, the governor said some new initiatives would include a Public Health Fund and an H2-Ohio Fund.
The former would entail a joint effort of several agencies targeting problems that have been exacerbated by the drug addiction crisis, he said.
The latter would address a range of water-related issues including Lake Erie algal blooms, "nutrient pollution" and aging septic systems, among others. "We cannot continue to lurch from water crisis to water crisis," the governor said.
Other areas touched on in the speech include his budget-related plans to address:
- Infant mortality rates.
- Lead paint poisoning.
- Expanded mental health and drug addiction treatment.
- Expanded nutritional programs.
- Wrap-around services for at-risk students.
- Additional funding for children's services.
- Guaranteed tuition rates over four years.
- Enhanced "opportunity zones" in economically distressed areas.
- An "all-of-the-above" energy policy.
- Additional law enforcement task forces.
- A new "narcotics intelligence unit" in conjunction with Attorney General Dave Yost.
>News article courtesy of The Fitzgibbon Group, Columbus, Ohio