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03/03/2011

House Committee may add Public Works funding to transportation budget

The Ohio Public Works Commission will run out of money to build local infrastructure projects that are scheduled for the upcoming construction season if the legislature fails to appropriate additional funds for the program soon, the director of the commission told legislators Monday.

In testimony before the House Finance & Appropriations Committee, OPWC Director Michael Miller warned that pending projects would stall unless the legislature includes new capital appropriations in the recently proposed transportation budget bill, House Bill 114.

While the commission has received project applications and recommendations from District Integrating Committees, "I would be dishonest if I said we didn't have a few projects in jeopardy," Miller said in response to a question from Committee Chairman Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield).

The transportation budget proposed last week by Governor John Kasich does not include sufficient funding to sustain the program through the upcoming biennium, he said.

"All of these local projects – none of them will move forward in the absence of a capital appropriation," he said.

Last year the legislature opted not to pass a capital appropriations bill – the typical source of OPWC funding – after the governor-elect asked lawmakers to defer doing so until he had the opportunity to become fully informed about the state's precarious financial situation.

Miller told members that project planning, construction inflation, and timing issues made the transportation budget the "best opportunity" to ensure projects slated to start this season are able to move forward.

After the hearing, McGregor said he found the director's argument convincing.

"It didn't come out in the executive version of the budget, but I think its something we'll want to talk about," he said about funding for the commission's programs.

"This is a bipartisan issue, it affects everyone's district. So if there were a way to do something, and there were the will, and the administration were amenable, I think this would be a good vehicle," he said.

"We're talking about construction season, projects in cue and keeping that process going," he said, noting the April 1 deadline for the governor to sign the transportation budget would ensure funding by July 1.

McGregor acknowledged that there was a general concern that adding capital appropriations for OPWC could increase pressure on lawmakers to fund other types of "community projects," such as parks and recreation facilities, that were funded through the biennial capital appropriations budget when the state's finances were in better condition.

However, funding for the local infrastructure program has an urgency that other local community projects lack, he said, adding there would eventually be another capital appropriations bill that will be more appropriate for other capital requests.

"I see a clear difference between this and a regular community project," he said. "This is something, I think, that directly relates to our economy and our ability to get some of these local projects done."

In yesterday's hearing on the transportation budget bill, Chester Jourdan, Jr., executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, warned that, "The loss of these funds to our communities would halt important capital projects we have planned in coming years.” The 19 OPWC districts throughout the state have already recommended $132 million for State Capital Improvement Program projects and $25.9 million for Revolving Loan Program projects, he said.


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