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Politics is big in these parts, and we’ve got it covered. John Arthur Hutchison and other staff writers will offer their inside information on the events, big news and little moments of the local political scene in Lake, Geauga and eastern Cuyahoga counties.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Kasich reveals intriguing turnpike plan

Gov. John Kasich finally unveiled his plan for the Ohio Turnpike and it doesn’t involve leasing the 241-mile toll road.

Many, especially community leaders in northern Ohio, had expressed concern that Kasich wanted to lease the turnpike and turn it over to a private operator.

That concept had fostered concerns that tolls would dramatically rise and divert motorists to other roadways.
At first glance, it appears the governor heard and listened to those concerns, so give him credit.

Instead, the governor wants to use toll revenues to raise up to $3 billion for road projects. It will be interesting to see how this plan fits into Kasich’s next biennial budget to be proposed next year.

Kasich said on Thursday that his turnpike proposal would raise $1.5 billion through bond sales that would be paid back through future toll revenues, and $1.5 billion could be generated through matching local and federal funds.

Tolls for local passenger trips that are paid with EZ Pass would be frozen at current levels for the next 10 years.

For all other tolls (longer passenger trips and all truck trips), any increases will be capped at the rate of inflation, or approximately 2.7 percent annually, assuming sustained traffic growth at the historic 1 percent rate.

The Ohio Turnpike Commission would stay in place and turnpike job layoffs would not be needed.

Kasich said that raising the state’s gasoline tax was not the answer to solve a $1.6 billion highway budget deficit because an uncertainty economy, higher gasoline prices and more fuel-efficient cars have combined to reduce gasoline sales and state gasoline tax revenue.

Kasich wants to try a different approach by using the $1.5 billion acquired through bond sales help to fund road projects throughout northern Ohio and allow the Ohio Department of Transportation to spend the state’s gas taxes and federal funds on road projects downstate.

Diverting money generated by the Turnpike away to other projects will require approval from the Ohio General Assembly, so there will be some debate about exactly how and if that’s done.

Leaders from northern Ohio including Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald and three other county commissioners issued a joint statement after Kasich revealed his turnpike plan.

They seemed pleased that the governor decided not to privatize the turnpike but are concerned that gas tax money paid by people who live and work in northern Ohio will be used to pay for projects in other areas.

They also want to take time to evaluate the governor’s proposal and the overall impact it will have on the roads and economy in northern Ohio and will seek public comment to help guide and advise them when it comes to public infrastructure in Ohio.

Hmmm, is FitzGerald starting to act like he might be a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014?

Bipartisan redistricting?

A bipartisan plan to change the way Ohio draws state legislative and congressional districts cleared the state Senate by a 32-1 vote.

Under the resolution, a seven-member redistricting commission would be established, consisting of the governor, auditor, Ohio secretary of state and four members appointed by the legislative leaders in each chamber. The commission would elect bipartisan co-chairs, and none of the members could be a sitting member of the state Legislature or Congress.

Any plan proposed by the commission must receive five votes including at least one vote from the minority party.

The Ohio House of Representatives didn't have a chance to act on the proposal during the two-year legislative session that ended Thursday and that chamber’s vote is needed to put the measure before voters.

Perhaps the legislation will serve as a blueprint, but for now, what it means is we’ll just have to wait to see if the Ohio General Assembly is really serious next year when it comes to reforming the way these district lines are drawn.

Swearing in ceremonies

The Lake County Democratic Party will swear in Commissioners Robert E. Aufuldish and Judy Moran, state Rep. John M. Rogers, Clerk of Courts Maureen G. Kelly, Recorder Ann M. Radcliffe, and Treasurer Lorraine M. Fende at 2 p.m. Jan. 1 at the Performing Arts Center Theater at Lakeland Community College.

The Lake County Republican Party will swear in elected officials on Dec. 26.

Details weren't finalized as of press time, so call the party headquarters for details.

John Arthur Hutchison
Twitter: @newsheraldjah

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