Gov. Mike DeWine stressed public safety Friday in a bid to resuscitate the entirety of his requested gas tax increase after Ohio lawmakers twice whittled it substantially.

Holding aloft a copy of the "150 Most Dangerous Intersections in Ohio," DeWine said the state could begin improving them immediately — if lawmakers grant him an 18-cents-a-gallon increase in the gas tax.

"It's our obligation to make our roads as safe as we can … it's our moral obligation to do this," DeWine said. "Our loved ones are on the road … an essential function of government is to protect the people."

DeWine said the House- and Senate-passed transportation budgets do not contain large enough gas tax increases to move on needed roadway safety improvements.

"It's in our hands, in our power, to make roads a lot safer and save a number of lives," DeWine said from the Ohio Department of Transportation's Traffic Management Center.

He declined to critique particular portions of the legislature's scaled-back tax increase, but said he looks forward to working with Senate and House members as they work out a compromise bill. The governor also declined to discuss any concessions he is prepared to make with lawmakers who have scaled back his demands.

DeWine spared his tongue, but the Department of Transportation's list of the 150 dangerous intersections included the names of the state senators and representatives in whose districts the intersections are located.

State Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Marla Gaskill and Lt. Col. Kevin Teaford said bad road conditions imperil the prompt and safe arrival of first responders and also endanger motorists. Gaskill recalled a crash in which a person swerved to miss a pothole, crossed the center line and collided with another vehicle, killing the driver.

Road shoulders, overhanging tree limbs, potholes, guardrail integrity, lane markings and signage all play a role in road safety, officials said.

The tax-shy majority Republicans who control the General Assembly agreed additional highway money is necessary, but were not sold on the amount DeWine describes as the bare minimum needed. Ohio's gas tax stands at 28 cents a gallon and has not been increased since 2005.

“This budget is significant," said Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina. "It provides a larger amount of spending than many prior budgets. We did look at historical averages for spending in all of the different areas, and we did vote for a relatively substantial revenue increase, more than $400 million a year.”

The Senate voted Thursday to institute a 6-cent-per-gallon increase in the fuel tax after the House previously approved a 10.7-cent-per-gallon gasoline hike, with a 20-cent-per-gallon increase in diesel fuel. The Senate version would increase the tax beginning July 1 while the House bill would phase in the increase over coming years.

DeWine wanted an extra $250 million per year for safety projects, and the Senate approved a $25 million annual increase on top of the $108 million per year already funded through maintenance.

But the GOP-controlled Senate was skeptical of the administration's safety request, considering it asked for the same $250 million per year for the next 10 years. And there are questions about the need for so much money right away — for example, as the state fixes the worst 100 intersections on its list, the next 100 move up and become the worst.

“We fully funded what we believe is the need for safety projects, and then we put an additional $25 million a year on top of that," Obhof said. "Where we end up, we’ll see next week.”

In another key difference in the bills produced by lawmakers, the Senate transportation allocates $55 million a year for public transit, which now receives $33 million, while the House allocated $100 million annually.

DeWine's requested 18-cents increase per gallon would generate about $2.5 billion in additional funding over two years.

The two chambers will begin hashing out a compromise bill next week as with a March 31 deadline looming.

Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, said she wants the final bill to go higher than the Senate's 6-cent plan, with more funding for public transit and major new projects. She likes that the budget includes a legislative study committee looking at alternative road revenue and evolving technology and report by Oct. 1.

“What we’ve committed to starting and what is in progress now needs to be finished," she said. "But I don’t know that we can pave our way to the future of transportation.”

DeWine's 18-cents-per-gallon request easily won the support of local government officials and groups since they receive 40 percent of gas tax revenues for their streets and bridges. Both the Senate and House would change that percentage share, with 55 percent of the portion from the gas tax hike going to the state and 45 percent to the locals.

 

Dispatch reporter Jim Siegel contributed to this story.