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Ohio Senate signs off on $7.8B transportation bill

BY MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Chief Published: March 23, 2017 12:11 PM

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Senate signed off on its version of a $7.8 billion biennial budget for the Ohio Department of Transportation and a handful of other state agencies Wednesday, sending the legislation to a conference committee to hash out differences with the Ohio House.

The transportation budget passed on a vote of 33-0. The House and Senate are expected to finalize the legislation in coming days, sending it to Gov. John Kasich for his review and signature prior to the end of the month.

The transportation budget is separate from the larger state operating budget and includes funding for the maintenance and improvement of Ohio's roads and other infrastructure.

" Transportation affects every single Ohioan -- every family, every business, anyone who conducts commerce or lives or travels through this state is impacted by the decisions that we make in this transportation budget," said Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson), who serves as chairman of the committee that considered the legislation.

Among other changes from the version of the transportation budget earlier approved by the Ohio House, senators opted to solidify "at least $33 million" in state funding each fiscal year for public transportation programs, shift $30 million in Volkswagen emissions settlement money for transit upgrades, and divert $48 million in motor fuel tax receipts to local road and bridge projects.

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The amended legislation also would require counties to seek voter approval to impose an additional $5 local vehicle registration fee, rather than allowing commissioners to attempt to move the increase on their own. The proceeds from that permissive increase would be directed to road and bridge projects.

The Senate also:

Removed language added by the House that would have made a failure to display a front license plate on a parked vehicle a secondary offense.

Clarified an amendment allowing low-speed vehicles to use public roads when traveling from one farm to another for agricultural purposes when displaying a triangular slow-moving vehicle emblem.

Removed language creating a pilot project in Stark and several other counties to reduce the cost of commercial vehicle registrations, instead establishing incentives statewide for trucking companies that choose to register their vehicles in the state.

Wednesday's Senate vote followed late morning testimony on the transportation budget, including opposition from county commissioner and engineer groups on certain provisions.

Wayne County Commissioner Ron Amstutz, a longtime member of the state legislature before being elected to his current position in November, voiced concern about language added by the Senate requiring a vote of the people for counties to add an additional $5 to vehicle registration fee.

Amstutz said language should be amended to allow commissioners to increase the fee on their own, subject to local referendum, or place the issue on the ballot.

"We are all aware that we have many transportation infrastructure challenges, both at the state level and the local level," Amstutz said. "There's a lot of pressure on the revenue stream to deliver the maintenance of our system that's required."

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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