The recommendation should surprise no one: Ohio needs to raise the gasoline tax to come up with money to build and fix roads.
A 15-member committee appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine late last month took barely a week to reach that conclusion, and they’re right. Lawmakers should include a reasonable hike in the transportation budget that will come before them soon so that Ohio doesn’t fall even further behind in taking care of essential infrastructure.
But they shouldn’t stop there. Even if the gas tax grows, infrastructure needs will continue to outpace this 20th-century revenue source; the state needs a transportation-funding method that is more sustainable for the long term.
Equally important, lawmakers should elevate the emphasis on mass transit in planning for Ohio’s economic future. This will always be a state that loves the open road and the personal automobile, but it’s also a state with large cities that need other, smarter options for moving people where they need to go.
In the short term, however, there’s a lot to recommend a gas-tax increase:
? Ohio’s rate of 28 cents per gallon hasn’t changed since 2005. Inflation has more than erased that increase; plus, as cars become more fuel-efficient, people buy less gas, further reducing state money for transportation.
? Many other states have raised their gasoline taxes recently and Ohio’s is lower than in four of the five states we border. Only Kentucky’s, at 26 cents, is lower. Ohio’s rate also is 6 cents below the national average.
? The gas tax is essentially a user fee; you don’t pay it if you don’t drive; if you drive more you pay more.
That last point highlights the limitations of the gasoline tax and the need to develop alternative funding mechanisms. After all, from an environmental standpoint, using less gasoline is a good thing and a public policy that depends on people buying more of it is not the way to the future.
For Our Roads Ohio, a coalition pushing for a gas-tax increase, wants to see future increases indexed to inflation. That would help with some of the erosion of funding from the tax over the years but would do nothing to counter the fact that motorists of the future simply will need less of the stuff.
What’s needed is a different kind of user fee — one that measures miles driven. Technology exists to do that but poses problems: privacy advocates don’t like a GPS system that tracks where a person’s miles are driven; having no GPS makes it impossible to distinguish in-state miles from out-of-state driving. Ultimately, the solution may lie in all states agreeing to a given system and technology so that the counting can be consistent across the country.
For now though, Ohio needs a quicker fix. The Department of Transportation — which spent $2.4 billion in 2014 on construction, paving, snow plowing and maintenance — will have only $1.5 billion in 2020. Without new revenue, that could drop by another 14 percent for 2021.
We’re glad to hear that House Speaker Larry Householder of Glenford and Senate President Larry Obhof of Medina, both conservative Republicans leading even-more-conservative caucuses, say they aren’t ruling out a gas-tax increase. They need to make their tax-averse colleagues understand that Ohio can’t attract and keep jobs without adequate and well-maintained infrastructure.
— The Columbus Dispatch