Lawmakers push for transit funding as gas tax is considered

Ohio

According to the group MOVE Ohio, the State spends 67 cents per capita on public transportation while Pennsylvania spends more than $86 per capita.

Even Michigan outspends Ohio when it comes to public transportation. That doesn’t sit well with some lawmakers who say it needs to change.

Funding for public transit in Ohio has been neglected for years, according to Stu Nicholson with MOVE Ohio.

“We are outspent by every one of our neighboring states on public transportation,” he said.

Neighboring Kentucky spends just a few cents more, but the others are several dollars higher in spending.

As an example of State spending, $20 million was allocated last year for the Statehouse parking garage as a matter of public safety. Transportation union organizer Akshai Singh said that is double what the state put into all of Ohio’s transit systems statewide.

The funding for public transit in Ohio was roughly $6 million spread out across the state in the last operating budget. Singh and Nicholson say this is a matter of priorities.

“It’s got to be viewed by the governor and the state legislature as more than just a human services issue,” Nicholson said. “Public transit needs to be at the big-boys table, it has to be at the big-boys table.”

Right now, it clearly is not, and Singh says while people living in Columbus have not seen a drop off in services, others haven’t been so lucky.

“We are seeing expansion of service here; we have seen contraction of service pretty much everywhere else,” Singh said.

As a result, State Representative Michael Skindell and Terrence Upchurch, both Democrats, announced a bill that would increase the state’s investment in public transit from $6 million to $150 million using a mix of state general revenue funds and federal flex dollars. They say, increasing investment in public transit will help the economy by helping employers connect with a qualified workforce that has a reliable mode of transportation to and from their job.

The topic of an increase to the gas tax did come up during their news conference, but both lawmakers demurred when pushed to provide details on what kind of increase they would be comfortable supporting. They also made it clear that this bill has nothing to do with gas tax money revenues.

MOVE Ohio, on the other hand, did talk about the gas tax and argues that the state constitution can be interpreted in a way that would allow revenue to be used on public transit.

That is a debate that happens in almost every General Assembly, according to Skindell.

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