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Miami Valley Transportation Planners Watch Gas Tax Hike Proposals Ahead Of Budget Deadline

The federal 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn't been increased since 1993.
Ohio Department of Transportation
The federal 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn't been increased since 1993.

House lawmakers Thursday overwhelmingly voted to approve a transportation bill that would increase the state gas tax by just under 11 cents, and raise the tax on diesel fuel by 20 cents over the next couple years. 

In his State of the State speech Tuesday, Governor Mike DeWine called Ohio’s aging transportation network “a crisis.” The governor wants an 18-cents-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax, pegged to inflation, to boost funding for road and bridge repair and maintenance.

Some Miami Valley transportation planners are already looking at where to spend the the money if a gas-tax hike eventually takes effect. 

Ohio’s existing 28-cents-per-gallon gas tax was last raised in 2005.

It’s not pegged to inflation.

This means the state’s transportation purchasing power has fallen to around 58 cents on the dollar, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation

DeWine’s administration says its proposed 18-cent gas tax increase would generate more than a billion dollars a year in new dedicated revenue.

"Let me assure you, this is a minimalist approach, this is a conservative approach, with this being the absolute bare minimum we need to protect our families and our economy," the governor said in his recent address. 

More than half the money generated through the increase would pay for state highways and bridges.

The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Paul Arnold says the rest of the funds would go to cash-strapped local governments for roadway projects.

“The money that's earned through the gas tax is required by law to be spent only on transportation projects or the transportation system. If the intent is, we want our roads to be better, this user-fee increase is how you would make sure the funds go to their intent,” Arnold says.

He acknowledges raising the gas tax would cost drivers more at the pump.

"If you drove the annual U.S. average miles per year, which is 13,000 miles, and say you drove a 2015 Honda Accord, that's basically another $1.61 a week that you would be paying with the 18-cents-per-gallon increase, which equates to a cup of coffee a week basically for better and safer roads."

Critics of the plan say that's steep for many low-income Ohio drivers who already struggle to buy gas to travel to work or school. 

Arnold acknowledges that reality, but says continuing to defer urgent roadway maintenance and repairs is only going to cost already hurting local governments more, cities and counties, he says, that are struggling with less transportation infrastructure funding, especially as many vehicles have gotten more fuel efficient.

That’s the case in Montgomery County, where the top engineer says road and bridge needs typically far outpace the county’s transportation infrastructure budget.

Montgomery County's engineer told WYSO, if passed, the governor’s full gas-tax plan would generate at least half a million dollars for paving and bridge replacement programs. 

But Republican State Representative Niraj Antani says he’s not convinced raising the gas tax is the right way to boost transportation funding.

He voted against the House measure, saying in a statement:

“We should be cutting taxes, not raising them. While funding the repair of roads and bridges is important, we should dedicate general revenue fund dollars to it instead of raising taxes.”

“Why not use that increased spending authority," he told WYSO, "you know, the more income tax and sales tax that we're collecting because the economy is doing well -- to fund roads and bridges instead of a gas tax?”

The House bill next goes to the Senate for consideration. 

State lawmakers will have to decide whether and how to raise the gas tax and pass a final transportation budget bill by the end of the month in order to take effect by the start of the state fiscal year July 1.

Read more about the gas tax at the Ohio Statehouse News Bureau.