Ohio, Maine budget deals reached

| 7/5/2011

The first of July is a key date for nearly all states when addressing budgets for the coming year.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 46 states began fiscal year 2012 on July 1. As of Friday, Ohio and Maine were among the 45 states to enact budgets in time for the start date. Minnesota is the lone holdout.

One notable state budget is found in Ohio. As part of the two-year, $56 billion budget deal is authorization for state officials to pawn off the Ohio Turnpike.

Gov. John Kasich initially floated the idea early this year of privatizing the 241-mile roadway. He said handing over the turnpike, which is made up of interstates 76, 80 and 90, could result in the state pocketing as much as $2.5 billion.

The budget bill – HB153 – permits the state to move forward with pursuit of a turnpike lease deal.

Kasich spoke Friday about the opportunity leasing the turnpike provides the state to generate a “big chunk of money” to improve infrastructure. He touted the $3.85 billion deal Indiana made in 2006 to fork over the state’s toll road to private investors for 75 years.

Since then, the foreign investors have increased tolls more than 150 percent with more increases planned.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is opposed to the sale or lease of public roadways. OOIDA belongs to a coalition called Americans for a Strong National Highway Network, which also advocates against this form of privatization.

As part of any lease deal, Ohio state lawmakers would have some oversight. The Legislature would be responsible for writing the terms of any contract to operate the road. In addition, limitations could be placed on toll increases.

Elsewhere, plans for road and bridge funding in Maine are complete. Gov. Paul LePage signed into law a two-year, $637 million highway spending package, which includes tax breaks.

The transportation budget covers improvements and maintenance on roads and bridges, state police and other transportation-related services.

One provision in the budget – LD1348 – drops indexing as a funding source. Indexing is a system of automatic adjustments in the tax on motor fuels. The change regularly results in annual increases.

Indexing will cease in July 2012. According to a fiscal note, the removal of indexing is expected to cost the state about $5 million per year.

Gov. LePage and some fellow Maine Republicans have noted along the way to the bill’s passage that they are opposed to automatic increases in taxes. Instead, advocates say they would rather require lawmakers to vote on any changes.

Addressing concerns about how the state will replace the lost revenue for transportation, supporters said one option could be to apply a portion of the state sales tax.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Ohio, click here. To view other legislative activities of interest for Maine, click here.

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the topic included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.