Renewal Of Huge Bond Program Is On May Ballot

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Issue 1 is the renewal of a program that would allow the state to sell $1.875 billion in bonds over a 10-year period to provide money to local communities for infrastructure projects. Michael Miller is with the Ohio Public Works Commission, which was created with the first approval of this bond program in 1987. Miller says if it’s approved, the state can issue up to $175 million in bonds in each of the first five years, and $200 million in each of the last five years.

“We think we’ve found a sweet spot with the dollar amount. It keeps the state’s debt service around 4 percent of the general revenue fund, plus it provides for an increase to account for construction inflation over a 10-year period.”

The money would pay 90 percent of the cost of repair and replacement projects, and half the cost of new projects. And the way the funds are allocated, supporters say even the smallest communities get a share. Supporters say than in the last 27 years, funds from the Ohio Public Works program have helped with more than 11,500 projects. And this is the kind of issue that brings in boosters who aren’t normally on the same side. Here’s Andy Doerhel with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve seen a positive return on this or one of us, somebody would be raising their head and saying, ‘Don’t do this again’.”

Here’s Tim Burga with the Ohio AFL-CIO:

“When we see labor and business coming together in a non-partisan way, that’s going to be good for Ohioans.”

And though it was announced by Republican Gov. John Kasich and championed by his fellow Republican Senate President Keith Faber, Republicans and Democrats both support it. It passed unanimously in the Senate, and only two members of the House voted against it – Reps. Ron Hood of Ashville and John Becker of Cincinnati, both conservative Republicans. Becker says he’s neutral on the ballot issue itself, and was against the resolution to put it before voters because he’s concerned about how much the state spent in the last budget.

“We increased spending out of the general revenue fund an exorbitant amount – I think it was like, going from memory, about 9.6 percent. And then this ballot issue on top of that, it was more of a protest vote than anything else.”

But Becker isn’t the only conservative who’s concerned. Greg Lawson is with the Buckeye Institute, which doesn’t endorse or oppose issues but studies them. Lawson says this time, the state is asking for authority to borrow $500 million more than was requested from voters in 2005 – so this is an increase.

“Is now really the time to increase spending? And even though this isn’t a tax increase per se, it is indicative of a lack of ability to live within our overall means.”

The public works bond program has never failed with voters – including when it was paired with the high-tech Third Frontier program in 2005, after the Third Frontier had been voted down. But each time, the margin by which voters have approved it has fallen. When the Ohio Public Works issue was first presented to voters in 1987, it was overwhelmingly approved 70 percent to 29 percent. In 1995, the renewal passed 61 percent to 38 percent. And in 2005, it was OK'd 54 percent to 46 percent.