The Ohio Senate rolled out several transportation budget policy changes Tuesday, including eliminating House-passed regulations on traffic cameras and electric scooters, but Republicans are still struggling with what to do about the state gas tax.

Gov. Mike DeWine wants an 18-cent-a-gallon hike. The House wants 10.7 cents — 20 cents for diesel fuel. The Senate is expected to go lower than the House.

Disagreement remains over how much new revenue the state needs to keep up with road and bridge maintenance, complete safety projects and finish major road construction projects, including hundreds of millions of dollars for several phases of the I-70/I-71 interchange.

"We have a general idea of what we think the need is for the state at this point," said Rep. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, chairman of the Transportation Committee. He did not specify a amount, but the number is expected to be far below the $1.2 billion per year that DeWine says is needed.

The Senate also is expected to reduce the $100 million a year the House approved for public transit, possibly down to the $40 million proposed by DeWine.

"We're committed to figuring out what the actual need is and then trying to fund whatever that is," said Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina. "Members need time to process the data."

The Senate may vote the transportation budget, with gas tax changes, on Thursday, or wait until Monday.

DeWine has called his proposed 18-cent gas tax increase a “minimalist” option that would allow major construction projects to continue while letting the state catch up on backlogged road and bridge maintenance over the next decade.

The House gas tax would be phased in over two years, and the diesel increase over three years, raising $1.1 billion in additional revenue over the next two years of the transportation budget, compared to the $2.5 billion that would be raised under DeWine’s plan.

Ohio’s 28-cent gas tax, last increased in 2005, is lower than all surrounding states except for Kentucky, where it’s 26 cents.

Many of the Senate transportation budget changes made Tuesday removed policy proposals by the governor and House. Among the revisions:

• Removed language designed to significantly limit city usage of traffic cameras.

• Removed a proposal to allow cities and townships to impose an additional $5 license fee.

• Following a Dispatch story about registrars charging a $1.50 fee for laminating drivers’ licenses even though they no longer issue those licenses, the Senate proposed keeping the fee, but now call it “document processing.” Also, instead of increasing registrar fees from $3.50 to $5 as the House proposed, the Senate would allow it to rise to $5.25.

• Reduced the House-passed fees for electric and hybrid vehicles by $25 — to $175 for electric and $75 for hybrids.

• Increased "force account" limits, allowing local governments to do larger road projects without having to bid them out privately. It allows them to do more smaller projects in-house, McColley said. Some trade unions worry this is a back-door attempt to get around prevailing wage laws.

 

Contact Jim Siegel at jsiegel@dispatch.com.