With money for Ohio Public Works Commission infrastructure projects set to expire this year, members of a House panel are considering adding capital appropriations for the agency’s bond-backed programs.
Public Works Commission Director Michael Miller told the House Finance & Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee Monday evening that projects seeking funding through the State Capital Improvement program would stall unless the legislature includes new capital appropriations in the transportation budget.
The commission has received project applications and recommendations from District Integrating Committees, he said in response to a question from Chairman Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield). “I would be dishonest if I said we didn’t have a few projects in jeopardy.”
The Kasich Administration’s transportation budget proposal, HB 14, 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 declined to pass a capital appropriations bill – the typical source of OPWC funding – after the governor-elect asked lawmakers to hold off.
Director 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.
Speaking in an interview, Chairman 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 affect 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. But members need to ensure plenty of room within the state’s constitutional debt limit before making any decision on the issue.
Chairman McGregor acknowledged that there was a general concern that adding capital appropriations for OPWC could increase pressure on lawmakers to fund other capital requests from local communities.
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 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.”