“Wildly supportive,” “enthusiastically endorse” and “critical economic development tool” were phrases used during proponent testimony in the House Finance Appropriations Committee on HJR9 (Kunze). If approved by voters , the resolution would reauthorize the State Capital Improvement Program for another 10 years as well as expand funding for the program.
Supporters of the bill explained how local officials are able to use program funding to draw down federal funds and create “tangible community assets.” One witness even credited the program as the model of cooperation and shared-services currently seen in local government.
The committee heard from the executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, Suzanne Dulaney; the Ohio Township Association’s executive director, Matt DeTemple; Susan Cave of the Ohio Municipal League; and Angela Van Fossen of the Ohio Contractors Association.
“For the first five years of the program renewal, the program would be funded at a level of $175 million per year, and during the second five years, the program would be funded at an increased level of $200 million per year,” said Dulaney.
“A healthy and comprehensive infrastructure is essential to continued economic development in Ohio. If Ohio and our local communities are to remain competitive, we must continue rebuilding the basic infrastructure of the state,” DeTemple added.
Cave told the committee, “Projects are selected on a competitive basis to address the districts’ most critical infrastructure needs. Eligible projects may be for improvement to the streets and roads, water, wastewater and storm water systems, bridges and solid waste disposal facilities.”
The majority of questions were directed to Dulaney and Cave, with Reps. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati) and Nicki Antonio (D-Lakewood) both voicing support for the program before expressing concern whether more funds should be authorized due to “great demand.”
Rep. Dave Hall (R-Millersburg) and Dulaney discussed the need for locally elected officials in overlapping jurisdictions to work together for proper infrastructural planning, and how the program’s 10-year reauthorization would allow slower development to be done thoughtfully and cooperatively.
Dulaney also told Rep. Dan Ramos (R-Lorain) that she believed increases provided after year five were set in place, in part to account for inflation and the potential for volatility in the petroleum market.
Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) queried Cave about larger metropolitan cities like Columbus charging suburbs, including Duffey’s Worthington, higher rates for water and sewer than citizens in their own jurisdiction.
Because of a “bias of fragmentation of the system,” Duffey said, suburbs are “held captive” by higher rates, even though a person in Worthington may not be as wealthy as a Columbus resident who pays less for service.
He asked Cave to speak to the fairness of the practice and to whether public works monies such as the funds being discussed should go to them.
Explaining that she was not surprised by Duffey’s question, as they had discussed the issue many times and at length in the past, Cave told the representative, “I think I will dodge that question because I have both Worthington and Columbus as members of my association.”
As those in attendance chuckled, Duffey quipped, “No follow-up. … It seems I’ve already won.”
Van Fossen was the last to testify and said with a smile that she was glad to see the precedent had been made that “I can dodge a question,” to which Chairman Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster) responded jokingly, “Don’t push your luck.”
She said the program is “a win for everyone, providing safer travel for our families, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy.”
The chair also noted written proponent testimony had been submitted by Executive Director Donald Mader of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Ohio, Robert Guey of the County Engineer’s Association of Ohio, and Eric Luckage of the Coalition of Ohio Regional Districts.
Amstutz also said companion bill SJR6 (Bacon-Manning) is moving through the Senate more quickly than expected. Since it has language identical to HJR9, he said the resolution from the Senate will probably be the vehicle for the legislation and may be voted on next week in the House Finance and Appropriations Committee.