The Ohio Senate will roll out some transportation budget policy changes this morning, but majority Republicans are still struggling with what to do about the gas tax.

Both President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, and Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, have expressed consistent resistance to raising the gas tax, particularly by the 18 cents proposed by Gov. Mike DeWine and the 10.7 cents passed via a bipartisan vote in the Ohio House.

After postponing a hearing Monday, Senate Republicans were expected to introduce a substitute transportation budget on Tuesday morning, including its proposal for the gas tax. But the gas tax changes are not yet included in the bill, though they do plan to make those changes before voting on the budget, which they had hoped would occur Wednesday.

“This is a multi-billion dollar question that members are closely reviewing and comparing with prior budgets, all to determine and balance the need while being accountable with Ohioans who pay at the pump,” said John Fortney, spokesman for Obhof.

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 to catch up on backlogged road and bridge maintenance over the next decade.

DeWine and his transportation director, Jack Marchbanks, have argued that the House-passed plan, a 10.7 cent increase on the gas tax and 20 cents on diesel fuel, would not provide any money for major road construction projects such as the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to complete multiple phases of the I-70/71 interchange in Columbus.

“Anyone who thinks that if House bill passes and it’s status quo is wrong,” DeWine said last week. “We’re not just treading water, we’re actually going backwards with that bill.”

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.

“It will ultimately be an anchor on the ability of our economy to grow,” DeWine said of the lack of road construction revenue.

As Senate leadership talked about reducing the House-passed plan, DeWine spent time meeting with senators individually, trying to convince them of the need for more revenue. He has been assisted by a large coalition that includes local government officials and local chambers of commerce from across the state. As of last week, he said he was still hopeful that the bill would be “significantly improved upon” by the time it reached his desk.

DeWine has not ruled out a veto, depending on the final result.

Senate Republican leaders have discussed the possibility of shifting the gas tax out of the transportation budget so it can be bundled with offsetting income tax cuts, leaving Ohioans as a whole paying no net tax increase.

DeWine said last week that he opposed shifting the gas tax into the state two-year operating budget, which he introduced last week. He also didn’t want to see any tying of the gas tax increase to reductions in other taxes, like the income tax, that is used to fund services such as Medicaid, education and prisons through the general revenue fund.

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

jsiegel@dispatch.com

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