Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Lawmakers negotiate on gas tax

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Republicans and Democrats on the Senate transportation committee worked late into Monday night to reach agreement on a $4.7 billion budget that includes a gasoline tax increase.

Several versions of the bill make changes to the House-passed transportation budget, said Sen. Jeffry Armbruster, chairman of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.

The House version contains a 6-cent-a-gallon increase in the 22-cent-a-gallon state gasoline tax. Gov. Bob Taft has proposed that it be phased in by 2 cents each year over three years. Fully implemented, it would raise about $400 million annually for highway construction.

One possibility was to take the tax increase out of the bill and asking Republicans to pass it without Democratic help, said Armbruster, a North Ridgeville Republican.

It could be put in the $49 billion general spending budget that must be in place by July 1.

A vote recommending passage of the transportation budget would send it to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate Democrats released a wish list of amendments, including an exemption from fuel taxes for school districts and a promise that local government assistance would not be cut over the next two years.

The Democrats also wanted to reduce the gas tax increase by as much as 2 cents if Ohio gets back more than the current 89 cents it receives from the federal gas tax it sends to Washington.

Gone from the House version were two provisions: exempting vehicles 5 years old and newer from the E-check emissions test in the 14 county-testing area and dropping front license plates from all vehicles.

The Senate agrees with another House proposal that lowers the drunken driving standard from 0.10 blood alcohol content to 0.08 as mandated by a 2000 federal law. The state would lose federal highway money if it fails to lower the standard.

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