By JULIE CARR SMYTH and LISA CORNWELL Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — As Wisconsin lawmakers debate whether drivers should pay more at pumps in this state, their counterparts in Ohio raised their gas tax by 10.5 cents a gallon more for gas and 19 cents a gallon more for diesel fuel under a long-awaited compromise deal reached on Tuesday.
The compromise ended days of negotiations among legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who had wanted the rate to be much higher. After approval by a bipartisan conference committee, it moved quickly through the full House and Senate.
The increases, contained in the state transportation budget, would mean more than $850 million more a year for road and bridge projects. The final deal also sends 45% of the revenue from the tax increase to local governments, up from the 40% they get on the current gas tax.
Ohioans will pay a state tax rate of 38.5 cents per gallon on gas and 47 cents a gallon on diesel fuel after the increases are applied. Both new tax rates would start July 1 under the plan, which still requires DeWine’s signature.
DeWine initially sought an increase of 18 cents a gallon for gas and diesel fuel and urged lawmakers not to reduce it. He called his proposal a “minimalist approach” that was necessary to fix the most serious problems as soon as possible.
“This was a job that no one relished,” DeWine said Tuesday at a press conference with legislative leaders. “This was something that, frankly, had to be done if this state is going to move forward.”
The House then passed an increase of 10.7 cents for gas and 20 cents for diesel fuel, while the Senate pushed for an increase of only 6 cents a gallon on both.
Last week, DeWine and Republican House Speaker Larry Householder announced they had reached a deal under which the gas tax would rise by 11 cents a gallon and diesel fuel by 20 cents. But Senate lawmakers had not agreed to it.
Sen. Matt Dolan, a Chagrin Falls Republican, said senators held firm out of respect for Ohio drivers. He said every penny of gas tax raises $67 million.
Householder called it “a good compromise.”
“I think this is a reasonable approach. I think (for) the average Ohio driver, the effect is going to be less than $55 a year,” he said, adding, “The increase will go a long way to bring us forward as far as our infrastructure needs, and so it was necessary.”
Not everyone was pleased, however.
Republican state Rep. Niraj Antani, of Miamisburg, said the state had more than enough money between its rainy-day fund and budget surplus to fund infrastructure improvements.
“Raising taxes is the least creative solution ever used in government. The citizens of Ohio demand of us to do what is hard,” he said.
Ohioans now pay state tax of 28 cents on gas and the same for diesel fuel. Ohio hasn’t raised its state gas tax since 2005.
Antani said the decision to now treat the gas tax differently than diesel taxes will hit the trucking industry hard and “haunt our community for decades.”
Fix Our Roads Ohio, a coalition representing local governments, transportation businesses and other stakeholders in the state’s road system, praised the compromise.
A spokesman for the group, Curt Steiner, said it “will help ODOT avoid a crippling financial shortfall, fund needed maintenance and provide funding for priority highway improvement projects.”
The compromise transportation bill also allows Ohio drivers to remove front license plates starting July 1, 2020. It also would set fees for alternative vehicles at $200 and $100 for hybrid vehicles.
The House and Senate, in the meantime, have agreed on a figure that would boost public transportation funding, adding $70 million a year, up from the current $33 million.