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Ohio could vote on renewing its public infrastructure program next year

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio state lawmakers are considering whether to ask voters next year to renew a state program that has provided nearly $2 billion to local governments to fund infrastructure projects.

House Speaker Jason Stephens, a Lawrence County Republican, told reporters this week it is “possible” lawmakers will put the measure on the ballot in either the 2025 primary or the November 2026 general election.

“I think the question is: How do we explain inflation and what is that dollar amount?,” Stephens said. “Because it costs a lot more to pave a road or a village to do things like that than it did 10 years ago.”

Ohio voters last approved an infrastructure vote in May 2014. The measure, which passed with 65% of the vote, funded $1.875 billion over 10 years for municipal infrastructure projects, including roads and bridges and water and wastewater projects. With this issue now close to expiring, voters would have to think again about the next wave of spending.

Because borrowing is limited by the Ohio Constitution, the infrastructure program was created through a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval. The state needs voter approval to issue the bonds that pre-finance the projects and then pays off the debt with general fund money. Infrastructure programs are typically proposed by state legislatures, a process that requires a three-fifths majority of both the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate.

A vote could take place in November at the earliest. To do so, lawmakers would have to approve a ballot measure by August of this year. Key Republican lawmakers said they had attended meetings on infrastructure ballot measures relatively recently, but said the talks had not progressed very far.

Although the program was 10 years long and went into effect 10 years ago, Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine, said the program will be funded through the next fiscal year, which ends in June 2025.

Tierney said the government believes the program needs to be renewed, but is not too worried about exactly when the vote might take place.

“Whether it’s the fall election or the May 2025 primary, I don’t think we have a strong preference,” Tierney said.

According to the Ohio Public Works Commission, the infrastructure program provided at least $481.1 million, a mix of grants and loans, to more than 1,000 projects across the state in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

This includes nearly $45.2 million for 35 projects in Cuyahoga County, the largest of which are $9.5 million to replace the Pleasant Valley bridges in Independence and Valley View, $3.5 million Dollars were for the rehabilitation of West 65th Street from Denison Ave to Herman Ave in Cleveland and $2.9 million was for the reconstruction of Barberry Drive, Woodlawn Circle, Maple Drive and Fourth Avenue in Berea.

Andrew Tobias covers state politics and government for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer

State government/politics reporter Jeremy Pelzer contributed to this story

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