Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Voinovich pushes higher U.S. gas tax

He wants more of share for Ohio

By Jim Siegel
Gannett Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - U.S. Sen. George Voinovich wants more federal money for Ohio roads and would back a gas tax increase to make it happen.

Voinovich was in Columbus Monday to tout his bill that would get Ohio a greater rate of return on the federal gas taxes Ohio sends to Washington. Currently, for every dollar that Ohioans spend in federal gas tax, the state gets back just 89 cents.

At the same time, 26 states get back more than they send to Washington, including Pennsylvania ($1.17), West Virginia ($1.69) and New York ($1.21).

Asked why Pennsylvania fares better than Ohio, Voinovich said: "I suspect that at the time they did the formula, Pennsylvania senators and representatives were a little bit shrewder."

Under Voinovich's proposal, Ohio would get an additional $56 million next year from the federal gas tax, currently at 18.4 cents per gallon.

The bill would increase the minimum rate of return to 95 cents. This would affect 17 states, including President Bush's home state of Texas, which currently gets just 86 cents, tied for worst in the nation with Georgia and Florida.

The remaining states would keep their same rate of return. Voinovich, noting that the bill has the votes needed to pass the Senate, said it's an issue of fairness. "(Some states) should thank God they had this money for such a long period of time to our disadvantage," he said.

Voinovich said he would rather increase the federal gas tax by an unspecified amount than pay for the highway construction budget with deficit spending or other dubious accounting measures.

The Senate's $255 billion highway construction budget does not include a gas tax hike, "but it involves some creative financing that I'm not very happy about," Voinovich said. "I believe that ultimately we're going to have to increase the federal gas tax in order to get the level of spending that we need to get the job done."

Bush has ruled out a gas tax increase.

Ohioans were just recently hit with a 2-cent state gas tax hike, with another 4 cents coming over the next two years. The state tax is now at 24 cents per gallon.

Gordon Proctor, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, said an extra $56 million a year would mean a lot for Ohio's construction program. The state currently spends about $400 million a year on roads.

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