The Kasich administration has been moving full speed ahead in privatizing state assets and the most recent target is the Ohio Turnpike, the 241 mile toll road that runs the entire length of the northern end of the state. The Governor’s attempt at selling the state to private corporations has received no shortage of criticism across the state from lawmakers, citizens and editorial boards.
Last week, Gov. Kasich’s plan hit a new speed bump. The Governor had planned to use federal funding in part of his plan to privatize the Turnpike. However, Ohio’s Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood challenging Kasich’s authority to utilize federal resources to advance his privatization agenda. After review Secretary LaHood determined that federal resources may not be used for such purposes.
State Representatives along the Turnpike applauded Secretary LaHood’s decision and the work of Ohio’s Democratic congressional delegation. Ohio House Assistant Minority Leader Matthew A. Szollosi of Toledo said, “The Ohio Turnpike belongs to the people of the State of Ohio, and that should not change simply because Gov. Kasich wants a one-time infusion of cash for use by his administration. Based on what has happened in Indiana, motorists can expect a significant increase in tolls, maintenance of the turnpike will deteriorate, and toll workers can expect pink-slips. Privatization of the Ohio Turnpike is a bad idea.”
State Rep. Teresa Fedor also from Toledo had this to say about the Governor’s plan, “Governor Kasich’s scheme to privatize the Turnpike has cost Ohio millions in revoked funds. Federal Transportation officials said the Kasich administration misused the funds in a reckless effort to privatize the Ohio Turnpike. If Gov. Kasich succeeds tolls will rise, and traveling commuters, truckers and others who use the Turnpike will essentially pay an un-voted tax increase. Those who stand to benefit the most are the investment bankers who could make a killing off this scheme. Gov. Kasich needs to quit putting Wall Street bankers ahead of Ohio voters.”
Then over the weekend the Toledo Blade published another editorial criticizing Gov. Kasich’s privatization of the state. Excerpts of the editorial follow:
“The rush to cash in on leasing the Ohio Turnpike hit a bump in the road last week. It won’t stop Gov. John Kasich’s administration, but it does keep the issue in the public eye and make it less likely that Ohioans will wake up one morning to find that they no longer control the toll road they paid for.
“Mr. Kasich has made no secret of his desire to privatize the turnpike, along with liquor profits, prisons, and other state assets…
“…In the long run, leasing money-making enterprises will cost the state billions of dollars in revenue that will need to be replaced. In the case of the turnpike, many Ohioans also are concerned that tolls will rise, as many as 1,000 jobs will be lost, and turnpike maintenance will suffer. If that happens, more traffic — especially big trucks — will use parallel secondary roads, increasing maintenance costs and making those roads less safe.
“Last week, several Democratic members of Ohio’s congressional delegation who oppose the turnpike lease plan questioned the use of federal highway funds to explore lease opportunities…
The [Kasich] administration’s initial request said vaguely that a federal grant would be used to study how leasing assets works in other states, without mentioning the Ohio Turnpike at all. It deserved to be turned down as a ham-handed attempt to game the system.
“If the governor continues to believe leasing the turnpike is a good idea, let him come up with a transparent source of funding to study the issue — although preferably not by putting his hands in the pockets of local governments again. Commission a full, nonpartisan examination at least as comprehensive as a preliminary study released last March by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, which concluded that leasing the turnpike had little benefit and a lot of “likely negative outcomes.”
Read the full editorial here.