KNOX COUNTY – While Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed 18-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase may seem painful at the pump, local engineers say the hike is essential for the maintenance of local roads.
DeWine, just one month into his governorship, submitted his transportation budget to the House Finance Committee on Thursday, which included the increase. Per the state constitution, gas tax money is earmarked for road repairs and upgrades – both at the state and local levels.
Ohio’s current gas tax is 28 cents per gallon, so this additional 18-cent charge would increase the tax by 64 percent. It would add $1.2 billion to state coffers, the Ohio Department of Transportation said in a press release.
Ohio has not increased its gas tax since 2005, and its 28-cent rate ranks 29th in the nation. According to the Columbus Dispatch, every neighboring state has increased its gas tax since 2014.
DeWine views the increase as vital to the future of statewide transportation. If lawmakers approve his request, it will go into effect July 1, with no phase-in. DeWine has requested that the tax rise with inflation after 2020.
“Governor DeWine understands that maintaining the integrity of our roads and bridges is not only important to our economy; it is important to the health and welfare of our citizens,” ODOT stated.
ODOT estimates that someone driving 13,000 miles per year in a 2015 Ford F-150 pickup with a V8 engine would pay an extra $2.65 per week – $138 per year – under the new tax. Under the same mileage, it would cost the driver of a 2015 Jeep Cherokee an estimated $1.91 per week ($99 per year) and it would cost $1.61 per week ($84 per year) for the driver of a 2015 Honda Accord.
Of the $1.2 billion gained in 2020 through the proposed tax hike, $750 million would go to the state’s highway and bridge network, while $428 million would go to local governments for street repairs.
All 88 Ohio counties would receive approximately $1.6 million from the proposed gas tax in 2020. According to an Ohio Department of Transportation analysis, Mount Vernon’s annual gas tax revenue would jump from $544,801 to $940,979 next year. By 2024, with inflation factored in, the city’s yearly revenue could surpass the $1 million mark.
Each county, city, village and township would see the same 64 percent increase if the proposal passes. For example, Pike Township’s annual tax earnings would go from $90,475 to $151,989. Fredericktown would see a $72,000 increase in 2020 if the proposal passes, while Centerburg would see a $43,000 bump. Danville would see a $26,000 increase and Gambier would experience a $14,000 raise.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a great thing for us,” Knox County Engineer Cameron Keaton said. “For the county… we’re estimating the revenue to be somewhere (around) $1.6 million. And that, in essence, will not quite double what we spend on road and bridge maintenance at this point in time, but it’ll come pretty close.”
Brian Ball, engineer for the City of Mount Vernon, expressed similar support for the increase.
“We’re seeing potholes everywhere. We’re seeing the price of salt go up, the price of asphalt go up. Everything we’re doing costs more,” Ball said. “And so every once in a while, we do need to have the sort of corrections to keep up with costs and keep up with inflation. So it’s a pretty reasonable step up and that would definitely help our operations.”
Ball said the city typically spends $400,000 per year on pavement repairs, but “ideally, we’d be putting down about $600,000-$800,000.” With the cost of paving on the rise and winters like this one – where volatile weather patterns have wreaked havoc on asphalt roads, which contract and expand with the temperature (and are impacted by the repeated freezing and thawing of ice) – Ball said the city is “struggling to keep up.”
If DeWine’s proposal passes, Ball said the additional tax money the city receives will only be used on local roads; it could not be used on private properties or by other city departments. It would funnel directly into the city’s roads and bridges fund, which was established to finance city projects and street department needs, such as equipment, materials and labor.
ODOT will use its own share of the additional tax revenue to make improvements to state routes, Ball said, some of which run through Knox County. The state pays for 80 percent of state route repairs, while local governments foot the other 20 percent. This makes the benefit of such an increase two-fold, Ball noted.
“I think it’s important for our constituents and our user public to understand that, you know, ODOT is helping is build things here in Mount Vernon actively, and ODOT’s also creating larger infrastructure for us in the bigger cities,” Ball said.
“So ODOT’s money isn’t just being spent in Columbus and Cleveland and Cincinnati, it’s being spent here in Knox County, too.”
Ball believes an 18-cent increase now will serve better than a 25 or 50-cent increase down the road, when things are even more urgent.
“We are on-board with this increase,” Ball said. “We realize that it’s a significant burden to the user public, but people want to have nice roads to drive on. They don’t want their cars damaged by potholes. You know, there is some trade-off there, some sacrifice.”
DeWine proposed the increase, in large part, because the state is experiencing similar economic struggles when it comes to road repair.
According to the Dispatch, ODOT director Jack Marchbanks told lawmakers during Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting that “due to flat revenues, highway construction inflation, and mounting debt payments, ODOT is in jeopardy of being unable to fulfill its mission.”
The state has borrowed against future tax revenues and used Turnpike toll fees to patch financial holes in recent years, but at this point, ODOT said, the issue has become too big to ignore.
“Without a change in our available revenue, there will not be enough money for ODOT and our local partners to keep the roadways in their current condition, and roads will deteriorate,” the department said in its press release. “Statistically, we know that deteriorating road conditions lead to more crashes and that more crashes lead to more fatalities.”
ODOT has cut nearly 700 positions since 2011, the department said, which has saved it $330 million. The department has cut operational costs several other ways over the last decade to try to combat the lack of funding.
House Finance Committee members were conflicted on the tax proposal during Thursday’s meeting, the Dispatch reported. Those who advocated for the hike noted the immediate impact it would have on state and local roadways; those who opposed it said it would cause too much of a financial burden on taxpayers, and its susceptibility to inflation would only allow it to increase over time.
Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Township), who represents Ohio’s 68th district (which includes Knox County), sits on the House Finance Committee. While he was not available for comment on Thursday, Ball said he and Keaton had met with Carfagna recently to voice their concerns about the state of local roadways.
Ball believes Carfagna understands the need for local infrastructure funding, and he’s exhibited such concerns in the past by working with JobsOhio to help get Mount Vernon’s Parrott St. project rolling.
“I think he has a deep understanding of the needs that we have here for roads and bridge infrastructure, and he is a good advocate for the city and the county,” Ball said. “I think he has a good understanding of what we’re dealing with.”