Monday, December 17, 2012


Tom Suddes of The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote a column (LINK) over the weekend that members of the Stark County delegation to the Ohio General Assembly should be paying close attention to.

That is, if they want to make sure that Stark County gets Governor Kasich's defined share of bond revenues for bonds (underwritten by Ohio Turnpike ["Turnpike"] tolls).

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) plans to float bonds to leverage up revenues available to local governments across Ohio and, of course, the state government itself to maintain and upgrade Ohio's highways.

Since Kasich (Republican - Columbus) has been governor, he has endeavored to carry out his underlying philosophy that government should be stripped of everything not fastened down that can be moved and shuttled off to the private sector.

Accordingly, speculation has been rampant that he would move the Ohio General Assembly for authority to lease (long term) the Ohio Turnpike to the private sector.

Ohioans will remember that such is what losing Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell proposed doing in his 2006 campaign, had he been elected.

But lo and behold! Kasich has fooled us all.

On Friday last, Kasich began his campaign for reelection; not that any incumbent in less obvious ways ever ceases campaigning.

The governor unveiled his bond-underwritten-revenue-generation program as a "free lunch" for all Ohioans.  And, of course, Republican officeholders as a generality like to say that "there is no such thing as a 'free lunch.'"

Free lunch?  Indeed!

Bond interest and set up fees will come off the top of Turnpike revenues.

Not a dime is to be taken out of the pocket of any Ohioan.  And a high percentage of Turnpike revenues come from guess who?  You've got it:  out-of-staters who travel portal to portal across the Buckeye state.

Kasich aides, in his political barnstorming trip Friday across the Ohio Turnpike corridor running across Ohio's northern most counties, said that the Kasich "tax free to the taxpaying Ohioans highway funds plan" will raise about $3 billion.

And, get this.

Some 90% plus of the $3 billion or about $2.7 billion is to go to "northern" Ohio community roads and highways.  Northern Ohio?  Yes, "northern" Ohio.

And "northern Ohio" is defined to mean?

According to Kasich aides, the area of Ohio north of U.S. Route 30 otherwise known as The Lincoln Highway.

Terrific for Stark County, no?

But not so fast.

Does anyone believe that there will not be a fight in the Ohio General Assembly (OGA) when the Kasich proposal comes up for consideration after the first of the year in its new session (the 130th) on:
  • how "northern" gets defined, or
  • whether or not northern gets expanded into "the funds are to be distributed over all of Ohio."
Suddes, being Cuyahoga County tied, seems to be suggesting if not advocating that "northern" should be the area north of U.S. 224 (including, of course the Turnpike itself), which, of course, cuts Stark County out of the 90% plus factor.

Under the U.S. 224 and north scenario, Stark would share in $300 million with 61 other Ohio counties.   Compare this with about $2.7 billion with 32 other counties under the U.S. 30 and north Kasich administration plan.


Question to the  Stark County delegation to the Ohio General Assembly:  
  • Oelslager (Ohio Senate - R/Plain, the 29th),  
  • Schuring (Ohio House - R/Jackson, the 48th),  
  • Slesnick (Ohio House - D/Canton, the 49th) and
  • Hagan (Ohio House - R/Marlboro, the 50th):   
Is a pie of $2.7 billion (spread over 33 counties) over one that is $300 million (spread over 61 counties) one worth fighting for?

If Suddes is merely suggesting the north of U.S. 224, then obviously he is hearing from some Cuyahoga County legislators/northern Ohio legislators representing legislative districts right along the path of the Ohio Turnpike that since the revenues are coming from the Turnpike that the lion's share of revenues should go to a more limited area (i.e. U.S. 224 and north) rather than the more expansive U.S. 30 and north.

Moreover, isn't it predictable that the legislative fight will involve more than the 33 north of U.S. 30 counties versus the 26 north of U.S. 224 counties.

Does anyone believe that those 61 counties out of both definitions won't be advancing arguments as to why there should be "an equal distribution" across all of Ohio?

In 2008, the-then governor, Democrat Ted Strickland, came out in favor of doing an equal distribution statewide.  He failed, but citing his action is evidence that such sentiment does exist in Ohio political circles that the fair thing to do is to distribute the money across all 88 Ohio counties.

Citation authority on Strickland action:

Kasich, for his part, has a total win-win-win reelection equation to work with.

If the "north of U.S. 224" plan wins out, he has enhanced his chances to cut into the traditional Democratic majorities (particularly in Cuyahoga, Lucas and Summit counties) against a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014.

If the "north of U.S. 30" plan wins out, he is in about the same shape, plus he picks up Stark County which can go either way in statewide elections.

If it ends up an "all of Ohio" plan, he still wins.  He can say and will say to the 26/33 counties that he tried to advantage them on a rational basis since the Turnpike runs across the northern most counties of Ohio
Summit, but that politics internal (i.e. rural counties dominate) to the Ohio General Assembly prevailed.

Of course, the latter prevailing means he gets the least political benefit, but he still will benefit in his quest to stay in the governor's mansion.

The SCPR thinks Kasich's plan is "a political stroke of genius."  In a close race, it could be the difference maker come November, 2014.

And get this quote from the Suddes piece:
Then aides [of Kasich] showered [northern] Ohio with endorsements, including -- very significantly -- one from Democratic Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, and another from Gary Tiboni, president of Teamsters Local 436, which represents 688 turnpike employees.
It is big news when Republicans get Democratic mayors and union officials supporting their projects.

Kasich in 2011 bloodied his political standing in north/northeast Ohio with his politically "unwise" Senate Bill 5/Issue 2 plan to deal with public unions last year.

Perhaps his Turnpike plan with help him mitigate the lingering adverse political effect from having inartfully attacked public unions in the guise of Senate Bill 5.

And the good news for Stark County Republicans Oelslager, Schuring and Hagan is that they can get on the governor's bandwagon and in doing so help themselves and the governor politically.

But most importantly for the well-being of Stark Countians and our transportation artery infrastructure work to make sure that Stark County is part of the $2.7 billion and not the $300 million.

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