Proposal ups state borrowing to aid local infrastructure projects

The Columbus Dispatch  
Wednesday January 8, 2014 by Randy Ludlow

Neither politicians nor the people have had qualms about borrowing money to help local governments provide nuts-and-bolts infrastructure such as roads, bridges and water and sewer systems.

In what Ohio Gov. John Kasich bills as a move to both create and attract jobs, the State Capital Improvement Program would be expanded if voters renew the program in the spring.

The Senate Finance Committee began hearings yesterday on a resolution that would send the borrowing measure to the May 6 ballot for the fourth time following voter approvals in 1987, 1995 and 2005.

The proposed constitutional amendment would increase state funding for local projects from $120 million to $175 million annually for the five years beginning July 1, 2016 and then hike aid to $200 million a year for the next five years.

Local governments clamor for the state assistance, which is largely distributed on a per-capita basis and covers 90 percent of costs on repair or replacement projects and 50 percent of the bill on new or expansion projects.

Cities, counties, townships, villages and other government entities compete for the grants, with funding decisions made by district committees representing local governments in 19 districts statewide.

In Franklin County, the proposal ultimately would increase state aid for infrastructure projects from the current $13.6 million a year to $18.2 million annually, said Michael Miller, Ohio Public Works Commission director.

Kasich’s budget director, Tim Keen, billed the measure as creating jobs and improving the quality of life and health and safety of Ohioans.

Keen said providing $1.875 billion to local governments over 10 years would be affordable, with annual payments on the borrowing to increase by up to $40 million to $270 million.

The state’s improving finances can cover the bigger debt while Ohio still remains about 20 percent below its constitutional debt limit, he said.

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