Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Proposal exchanges gas tax for more vehicle fees

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Ohio residents would pick up a larger portion of the cost for law enforcement on Ohio's highways under a bill that would shift funding from the gas tax to increased vehicle fees.

Now out-of-staters who fill their gasoline tanks in Ohio help pay for the State Highway Patrol.

A proposal in Gov. Bob Taft's transportation budget, which is up for a vote today in the House finance committee, would stop funding the patrol with the gas tax, which residents and nonresidents pay.

Instead, the patrol would receive money from fees on motor vehicle registrations, driver's licenses and titles, which are paid for mostly by Ohioans.

The Ohio State Troopers Association says it would prefer that the gas tax continue to pay for the patrol.

"The gas tax has worked for 70 years, and it's the fairest way of funding us," said Dennis Gorski, president of the troopers' union. "Since we're out on the highways, we do serve other people from across the United States, and they should pay their fair share of us."

The shuffle would free up gas tax money for cities, villages, townships and counties for road and bridge projects.

The bill also calls for all drivers to pay six cents more for a gallon of gas - an increase of two cents a year for three years - to generate another $402 million in new transportation money once the phase in is complete. The current tax is 22 cents per gallon.

The patrol, with 2,670 full-time employees that include 1,523 uniformed troopers, is to get about $180 million of its $200 million annual budget from the gas tax this year.

The remainder of the money comes from truck inspection fees and other services.

Taft's original proposal called for a $15 increase in title fees, and $5 increases in drivers' licenses and vehicle registrations to generate about $177 million.

However, a House subcommittee sent the House Finance Committee a bill that called for $8 increases in title fees and vehicle registrations and a $10 increase in drivers' licenses to raise about $182 million annually - about $3 million less than what the patrol is to get next year from the gas tax. The bill has yet to go through the Senate.

Lt. Rick Frambo, a patrol spokesman, said the agency is most concerned about having a constant funding source.

"We can't be tied to the ups and downs of the economy," he said. "People are always going to have to register vehicles and get licenses so, obviously, we think of that as a dedicated funding source."

Rep. Ed Jerse, a Democrat from Euclid, said he is satisfied that increased fees will fund the patrol adequately.

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