Ohio governor to lawmakers: Higher gas tax can ‘save lives’

Ohio governor to lawmakers: Higher gas tax can ‘save lives’
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine speaks during a public inauguration ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, Pool) (John Minchillo)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Mike DeWine tried Friday to dial up the pressure on lawmakers to back his proposed gas tax increase by arguing lives were at stake.

The Republican governor repeated his insistence that his 18-cent-per-gallon hike, indexed to inflation, is the bare minimum for needed repairs to dangerous roads, intersections and bridges.

Fellow Republicans in the House lowered that amount to 10.7 cents, and Senate Republicans on Thursday cut it even further to 6 cents.

DeWine on Friday appeared with top state highway patrol officials to press the point that only his proposal will raise the money needed to fix potentially deadly road problems.

"We owe it to the families of Ohio to not settle for a bill that will stop us from making critical safety upgrades that will prevent future crashes," DeWine said. "Times when people will be injured, times when people will die."

He added, in a comment directed at House and Senate lawmakers: "We have it within our hands in the next few days to save lives. That's just a fact."

Lt. Col. Marla Gaskill of the Ohio State Highway Patrol provided an anecdote, without details, of a woman killed in a crash when another driver hit a pothole and veered across the road.

Fixing dangerous roads will prevent troopers from having "to deliver the tragic news to family members when it was clearly a road condition that caused the tragic loss of life," Gaskill said.

The House plan, which would not index the increase to inflation, would raise about $872 million per year, compared with about $1.2 billion from DeWine's plan.

The Senate proposal, which also does not set the tax to automatically rise with inflation, would raise about $400 million per year. That includes a record $267 million in safety spending, Senate spokesman John Fortney said Friday.

Safety spending can involve intersection and curve realignment, edge line rumble stripes, upgrading signs, pavement markings and guardrails, among other items.

DeWine on Friday dismissed suggestions he could add one-time funding from other state revenue, or tap the rainy day fund. That would only put the problem off until the next two-year budget, he said.

Instead, by accepting his proposal and its inflation index, lawmakers will have "to cast one vote" while in the Legislature.

Lawmakers in Ohio are limited to eight years in office at a time.

Copyright 2019 WTOL. All rights reserved.