Wednesday, August 6, 2003

State officials present plan to get more from gas, ethanol tax

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Rep. Rob Portman (left) talks about the roads initiative presented by Gov. Bob Taft during a stop in Cincinnati on Tuesday.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
Gov. Bob Taft wants more of Ohio's pennies from tax on gasoline and ethanol to pay for road projects in the Buckeye State.

Ohio is considered a "donor state," or one of the nation's big states that helps pay for highways in less-populated states by getting only an 89-cent return for every $1 of gas tax sent to Washington. Taft would like to see at least 95 cents returned.

Taft made his comments during a stop in Cincinnati on Tuesday with Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ohio Transportation Director Gordon Proctor.

Portman has introduced a bill that would make the change. He also has suggested a change that could bring in even more cash to Ohio: having all 13.2 cents in tax from every gallon of ethanol sold go into the Highway Trust Fund. Now, 2.5 cents of that tax is taken off the top and diverted to the federal government's treasury.

Those pennies from Washington would add up to big cash - $250 million a year - and create more than 4,000 jobs, all the while ensuring safer, less congested roads and interstates, Taft said.

"We want to make sure we get our share back," Portman said. "We don't mind being a little bit generous, but we don't want to be too generous."

Taft said the state is penalized for its high use of ethanol because the corn-based fuel is taxed 5 cents less than gasoline per gallon.

Because Ohio uses a lot of ethanol, it collects less tax and, therefore, a lower return from Washington.

Taft said that a 10-year, $5 billion construction plan can be launched if the changes are made.

That kind of money can address high-congestion freeways, improve the state's bridges and connect rural routes to interstates.

In particular, the money would help pay for several projects in the Tristate:

• Improvements to Interstate 75 in Cincinnati.

• Contributing to a new Brent Spence Bridge.

• Improvements to Ohio 63 in Butler County.

• Improvements to U.S. 22 in Warren County.

• Upgrading Ohio 232 in Clermont County.

• Widening Ohio 4 on the Hamilton-Butler county line.

"Transportation is the lifeblood of Ohio," Taft said. "The majority of these funds are in place, yet the entire program is dependent on us receiving more of our gas tax back. We're located at the crossroads of the largest, richest, and most densely populated manufacturing hub in the country."

Proctor said the new laws would represent a "turning point" for Ohio's highway system.

"It would be the largest and longest initiative since the origination of our highway system," he said.

Portman said action should be taken on his bill by the fall.


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