$7 Billion Budget Adjusts Ohio Driver Training, Credit Card Options

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Prospective Ohio drivers would see added training requirements and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles would be allowed to accept credit and debit cards under a state transportation budget that easily cleared the Ohio House on Tuesday.

The $7 billion, two-year spending blueprint lays out priorities for Ohio highway, road, bridge and public safety priorities over the next two years – with most of the money flowing to the Ohio Department of Transportation. It moved into immediate hearings in the Ohio Senate.

Most of the cash to pay for state transportation projects comes from motor vehicle fuel taxes and fees, a diminishing resource that will be evaluated by a study committee created by the bill. Ohio has partnered with private businesses, offered sponsorships along highways and sold $1 billion in Ohio Turnpike bonds as it has sought to boost transportation revenues while federal highway outlays lag.

Democrats wanted to see more money devoted to bridge maintenance and public transit systems.

State Rep. John Patterson, a Democrat representing Ashtabula County, said bridges are an integral part of his community – traversing protected estuaries, making way for cargo, and marking history. Both the longest and shortest covered bridges in North America are in Ashtabula County, he said.

“We can talk about a bridge to nowhere or a bridge too far, the point of the matter is our commerce is going to come to a halt without bridges,” he said.

House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith said the bill’s appropriations fall into the big picture of state spending and allocates what it can on bridge repairs.

State Rep. Dan Ramos, a Lorain Democrat, called for more money to go to transit projects. He said Ohio’s spending on buses and other public transit systems is among the lowest in the country, and the lowest by far for a state of its size.

“We have a decades-old system built for a previous century’s needs,” Ramos said. “Roads-only is not going to help us compete with other states.”

Ramos called for an amendment that would have increased Ohio’s per capita public transit spending from 68 cents to just over a dollar. Among examples he said Pennsylvania, a similarly situated state of big cities, farms and forests, spends $85 per capita.

Smith said a task force is created in the bill to help establish a long-term strategy for funding transit projects.

Representatives stripped out some provisions proposed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. They would have created a distracted-driving offense; authorized the state to offer a driver training course online; and prohibited the state and local governments from imposing residency quotas on public construction projects.

The bill calls for all aspiring first-time drivers – not just minors – to take an approved driver training course. It also makes other changes. However, representatives retained a requirement for behind-the-wheel driver training after Kasich proposed adding an online training option that would have been approved by the Ohio Department of Public Safety.