2018-19 Budget Review: Replacing the Medicare Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax

February 23rd, 2017

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

This is the first in a series of articles taking a closer look as specific items contained in the Governor’s proposed budget for FY2018-19, which the legislature must pass by June 30, 2017.

Last year, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a ruling that stated that after July 1, 2017, Ohio’s sales tax on Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCO’s) would no longer be a permissible source for state funds to draw down federal matching dollars for Medicaid. This represents a significant challenge for both the state, but also local governments and transit authorities which rely on sales tax receipts to support a wide range of services.

The Governor’s proposed budget would replace the MCO sales tax with a new Health Insuring Corporation (HIC) assessment which is similar to a plan that was instituted in California and was approved by CMS last year.

While this new assessment will assist the state in continuing to draw down federal Medicaid matching funds, it is not a sales tax. As a result, local governments and transit authorities will not have any local revenue generated as a result of the new HIC assessment.

House Bill 49 proposes a transitional aid fund for local governments and transit authorities to be paid out in a single lump sum in October of 2017. All 88 counties and eight transit authorities will receive a calculated 4th Quarter 2017 replacement aid amount based on what they would have received in revenue for that three month period. In addition, the transit authorities and 80 counties are to receive an amount based on the size of their sales tax revenue the Medicaid tax collections were, and how their overall sales tax collections compare to the state average. The remaining eight counties will not receive a payment from this calculation because the receipts from the tax represented too small a proportion of the overall revenue derived from the sales tax. (Those eight counties are Delaware, Erie, Geauga, Hancock, Holmes, Medina, Union and Warren counties.)

In total, the state will appropriate nearly $207 million to these local government entities as a part of the transition away from the MCO sales tax. However, in testimony to the House Finance Committee, Office of Budget and Management Director Tim Keen stated that the administration did not believe that long-term or permanent replacement of the revenue was in order as the MCO sales tax had only existed since 2010.

The full list of proposed transitional aid amounts can be found here.

Visit GOPC’s Transportation Modernization page to learn more about this important issue area

GOPC Testifies on Transportation Budget in House Subcommittee

February 16th, 2017

Recently, Greater Ohio’s Manager of Government Affairs, Jason Warner, had the opportunity to testify before the House Finance Subcommittee on Transportation regarding House Bill 26, the state transportation budget for FY2018-2019. The subcommittee held hearings throughout the week on the proposed budget, which provides appropriations for programs funded with motor vehicle fuel taxes and registration fees (primarily in the Departments of Transportation and Public Safety.

GOPC full testimony is below and can also be found in PDF format here. You may also review all the testimony which the subcommittee heard on the committee’s website.

 

House Finance – Transportation Subcommittee
House Bill 26: State Transportation Budget | Interested Party Testimony
Jason Warner, Greater Ohio Policy Center
February 9, 2017

Chairman McColley, Ranking Member Reece and members of the Transportation Subcommittee, I want to thank you for providing me this opportunity to speak to you today about transportation in Ohio and the state’s transportation budget for FY2018-19.

My name is Jason Warner and I am the Manager of Government Affairs at the Greater Ohio Policy Center. Greater Ohio is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that is valued for its data-driven research. Our mission is to champion revitalization in Ohio to create economically competitive communities.

As I am sure you are aware, Ohio is a cornerstone of our nation’s transportation infrastructure. I would like to focus my testimony today on what Greater Ohio sees as a policy platform to support a robust, competitive transportation system that will continue to keep Ohio at the forefront of meeting the increasing demands for a 21st Century transportation system for a 21st Century economy. We do not consider these to be aspirational goals, but rather a blueprint and effective strategic plan.

I would like to begin my remarks today with an overview of public transportation in Ohio. Ohio boasts a strong and productive public transportation network, which includes 28 urban and 33 rural systems. ODOT data shows that over 115.1 million passenger trips were provided by the state’s transit systems in 2013, the most recent year statistics are available.

Yet, 27 counties in Ohio feature no form of public transportation (either fixed route or on-demand service) and the state spends only 63 cents per capita for public transit. That is why Ohio ranked 38th in the nation in terms of state investment in public transportation, below North Dakota. It’s worth noting, that among Ohio’s neighboring states, the state ranks ahead of only Kentucky:

  • Pennsylvania – 9th ($85.55 per capita) 
  • Michigan – 15th ($24.33 per capita) 
  • Indiana – 19th ($8.57 per capita) 
  • West Virginia – 32nd ($1.50 per capita) 
  • Ohio – 38th ($0.63 per capita) 
  • Kentucky – 42nd ($0.34 per capita) 

Only 2% of ODOT’s budget is dedicated to public transportation, which is why the department’s own 2014 Transit Needs Study found that current service does not meet demand. Ohio’s peer states dedicate between 10-20% of their state transportation budgets to transit and the state needs to do much to make up for this deficiency. Public transportation is critical to a number of sectors in Ohio, including the elderly, disabled, and is a key component in successfully supporting the state’s priority of job creation, job growth, and workforce development.

We thank Director Wray for his leadership on this issue. Through his efforts and those of the team at the Ohio Department of Transportation, the governor’s budget proposed a substantial increase in funding for public transportation over the next two years. However, as the ODOT Transit Needs Study acknowledged, the backlog of capital needs is great and will require substantial support. There are several ways to address that gap.

Increase Federal Highway Administration Funding for Public Transportation

One option, which involves a simple reprioritization of goals and projects at the Department of Transportation is the idea of flexing Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) dollars.

Flexing FHWA dollars reallocated federal funding Ohio already receives. At present, the state flexes around $23 million per year for public transportation purposes. House Bill 26 proposes to increase this amount by $10 million per year, to $33 million annually. This is a significant increase in funding and we applaud the move by the administration to increase this support, which will help support the purchase of new rural transit vans and full sized buses.

Greater Ohio Policy Center believes that this support would be greatly enhanced with a commitment by the legislature and Department of Transportation to flex an additional $17 million annually, boosting the total amount of flexed FHWA dollars to $50 million per year of the biennium. Doing so will not adversely impact ODOT and its primary mission, as outlined recently by Director Wray in his testimony to the House Finance Committee, which is to “to take care of what we have.”

Setting aside a total of $50 million in FHWA funding to public transit will result in 7.5 fewer miles of highway expansion, or 24 miles of highway repaired per year. For perspective, ODOT paved 5,564 lane miles in 2015.

Allocating $50 million per year of FHWA fund to transit-related capital investments will have negligible impact on Ohio’s crucial highway maintenance and construction programs, while significantly improving safety, performance, and use of Ohio’s public transportation systems.

Create a Dedicated Funding Stream for Public Transportation

Flexing FHWA funding is just one option Ohio has to support Ohio’s public transportation network. Another option, which will require action on the part of the legislature, is to create a dedicated funding stream for public transportation.

Nationwide, 25 states along with the District of Columbia dedicate fees and taxes for the exclusive use of public transit. This, in turn, provides a relatively reliable source of assured funding for these systems. While local transit systems can seek support for dedicated sales tax funding from local voters, it is still not sufficient to meet all needs, and thus most systems rely on funding from the state.

There are several possible sources Ohio could dedicate to support transit-related equipment and vehicle investments; examples of potential funding sources include. At Greater Ohio, we believe Ohio should consider dedicated funding derived from the sales tax collected on rental vehicles, a revenue source that is largely paid by out-of-state visitors to Ohio. By dispersing the equivalent amount of sales tax collected on rental vehicles to fund public transportation, Ohio would take a major step forward in assisting Ohio’s existing transit systems modernize and expand to meet the growing demands for service statewide.

There are other options available beyond the rental vehicle sales tax, including a tax on motor vehicle sales or a fee on the sale of new tires, among others. Regardless of the source, dedicated funding is an important and necessary step forward if Ohio is to have a modern, competitive system.

Dedicated funding for capital improvements will increase the safety and reach of Ohio’s transit agencies. In addition, dedicated funding will help to expand Ohio’s existing transit services, including helping to reach residents in the 27 mostly rural counties that lack access to any form of public transportation.

Adopt and Implement a Statewide Active Transportation Policy

Public transportation is just one aspect of a robust transportation network which Ohioans have come to expect and rely upon. But as we near the beginning of the third decade of the 21st Century, we must look beyond four wheeled transportation as being the sole aspect of the transportation network.
Every day in Ohio, 2 pedestrians and 1 bicyclist dies or is seriously injured in roadway accidents.

Nationally, elderly people and children are at greater risk of pedestrian fatalities than other age groups. A 2015 analysis of 37 active transportation projects across the country determined the projects avoided a total of $18.1 million in collision and injury costs in one year alone. An active transportation policy that ensures state roadways and municipal streets that receive ODOT investment can be safely traveled by all users’ needs to be implemented.

Active transportation, by definition any human-powered transportation system such as walking or bicycling, is increasing in frequency across the state for a variety of reasons. Adoption of a policy that would be sensitive to context (rural vs. suburban vs. urban) and that would facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods is key. At present, 33 states have an active transportation policy. Agencies such as ODOT and the Ohio Department of Health have been working on a policy for some time. I recently had the opportunity to share this plea with both the Joint Task Force on Transportation Issues and the Joint Education Oversight Committee, as part of its review of school transportation issues, and share it with you now in the hope that this committee will urge the department to pursue this policy on a statewide basis and ensure safe travel for all Ohioans.

Comprehensive Funding Reform of the ODOT Budget

As I have previously mentioned, Ohio is a key component in our national transportation network. Ohio’s interstate highway system is the 12th largest in the nation, and ranks 5th in overall traffic volume and 4th in truck traffic volume. Ohio boasts the 2nd largest inventory of bridges in the nation. Beyond roadways, Ohio also ranks 4th nationally in freight rail mileage, hosting 35 freight railroads and 5,305 miles of rail. Ohio’s maritime ports saw 48,267,276 short tons of cargo traded in 2013, and features 7 ports ranked in the top 100 nationally that year.

Yet, in spite of these impressive statistics, the American Society of Civil Engineers has graded Ohio’s 125,000 plus miles of roads a ‘D’, finding that 43% of the state’s roadways are in critical, poor, or fair condition. Of greater concern is a finding that 2,242 of the state’s 27,015 bridges (8% of total bridges), are ‘structurally deficient.’ The overall cost to motorists in the state, the personal cost of driving on roads in need of repair, is $3.3 billion per year, which amounts to $413 per motorist.

Adequately maintaining and upgrading all modes of transportation in Ohio is becoming a challenge, as there are not enough resources available to ensure this is done effectively. The cost of transportation materials and equipment has increased substantially in the last decade, while local, state and federal funds have flat-lined. This is not a problem that is unique to Ohio, and ODOT should be lauded for the work it has been able to accomplish in light of these challenges.

That said, Ohio needs to take a serious look at these challenges going forward, and can look close by to see an effective model that is meeting the needs of the public and private sector in a strategic manner.

In 2012, Pennsylvania had been found to have the most dire of infrastructure systems in the nation; the bridges were rated as the most structurally deficient, roadways were crumbling and there was a growing, unmet demand for public transportation. Through a comprehensive 5-year transportation budget package enacted in 2013, Pennsylvania is now producing $2.1 billion in additional funds and recalibrating resources to better support all modes of transportation. The state has now adopted a Fix-It-First Policy that focuses on funding repairs and maintenance programs on existing infrastructure, doing more to improve asset management and limiting capital expansions.

Like Ohio, Pennsylvania restricts its motor fuels tax to highways and bridges, so in order to provide for the needs of additional transportation modes like transit, rail, aviation, and maritime ports, the state instituted new fees and aggregates small increases on existing taxes and fees to provide additional funding to expand transit services, modernize ports and airports and generate additional revenue for traditional maintenance programs. Among these revenue generators were:

  • A new $1 fee on all new tires sold 
  • A higher fine for lapsed vehicle insurance in lieu of license suspension 
  • A flat $150 fine for disobeying traffic control devices 
  • A $2 per day vehicle rental fee 
  • A 3% vehicle lease tax 
  • A clear formula for assessing the gas tax on alternative fuel vehicles 
  • A switch from taxing at the pump to taxing “at the rack”

One of these elements is already included in House Bill 26. A provision in the bill moves the point at which the motor fuel tax is applied from the point when the fuel is received to, generally, the terminal or refinery rack, affecting who is required to report and pay the tax.

GOPC believes that other elements of the Pennsylvania reform package can and should be considered in Ohio, in order to ensure the state’s economic stability in the years ahead.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is crucial that Ohio support and maintain a system supporting all modes of transportation. Such a robust, competitive system as outlined here today can serve as a blueprint for addressing our state’s critical infrastructure needs while simultaneously enhancing Ohio as a place where businesses can thrive and where people want to live.

Chairman McColley and members of the Transportation Subcommittee, thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

House Finance Committee begins work on State Budgets

February 9th, 2017

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

The first month of the 132nd Ohio General Assembly began slowly, with mostly organizational work going on behind the scenes while new members acquainted themselves with life as a member of the state legislature. That quiet period has now come to an end, as the House Finance Committee has taken up the task of passing the next state operating budget for the next two years.

The state operates with four state budget bills: the Main Operating Budget, the State Transportation Budget, the Bureau of Workers Compensation Budget (BWC) and the Industrial Commission Budget (IC). The BWC and IC budgets are passed separately from the main operating because they are supported through the fees that businesses pay in the state. Those fees provide the operational funds for those organizations and must be passed separately as they do not use general revenue funds (GRF) for operations.

Like the BWC and IC budgets, the State Transportation Budget is funded through a combination of federal funding and revenues derived from the state motor fuel tax. The Ohio Department of Transportation and other agencies funded with state motor fuel tax revenues also receive funding in the main operating budget from the GRF, but the State Transportation Budget deals exclusively with the disbursement of funding from federal transportation dollars and motor fuel tax proceeds. 

On February 1, the House Finance Committee began hearings on the main operating budget, which concerns the funding of general government operations for the next two years. A day later, on February 2, the committee began hearings on the State Transportation Budget. Both budgets must be passed within the next 5 months so they can take effect on July 1, when the next state fiscal year (FY2018) begins (though it is worth noting that, due to a ruling of the Ohio Supreme Court, the transportation budget must have a 90 day effective date, requiring it to be passed by April 1).

Governor John Kasich introduced his proposed budget to the state legislature on January 30. The governor’s budget proposal recommends total GRF (Main Operating Budget) spending of $33.10 billion in FY2018 and $33.82 billion in FY2019. In total, the two year operating budget calls for total appropriations worth $66.92 billion. The proposed Transportation Budget calls for spending $3.96 billion in FY2018 and $3.85 billion in FY2019. This actually represents a reduction in overall spending compared to the past two years, where the transportation budgets appropriated $4.01 billion in FY2016 and FY2017.

Beyond spending, the budget also serves as a catalyst for a number of state law and policy changes, and Governor Kasich has proposed a number of initiatives through this budget proposal. Among these changes are further proposed tax cuts, with a proposal to simultaneously cut taxes across the board and reduce the number of tax brackets from 9 to 5; a freeze on public college and university tuition rates, along with a proposal that universities provide text books to students (while charging up to $300 to offset costs); improving state government through technology, including moving 100 percent of state computers to cloud computing.

On the transportation side, the proposed budget seeks to create ‘smart highways’ along existing state highways (I-270 in Columbus and I-90 near Cleveland), seeks to provide the Director of the Department of Transportation with the authority to enact variable speed limits and ‘hard shoulder running’ along highways during peak rush hours, and appropriates $45 million for expanding research capabilities at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty to further foster research and development of autonomous vehicles and smart highway technology.

The majority of the proposed spending in the transportation budget is dedicated to maintenance on Ohio’s more than 43,000 lane miles of highway and 14,000 bridges, but does also include a proposed increase in federal ‘flex funding’ for public transportation, appropriating an additional $10 million per year towards a grant program which will assist local transit agencies in replacing their aging fleet of vehicles.

Over the next several weeks, the various subcommittees of the House Finance Committee will begin hearings on the hundreds of provisions and line items contained in the state budget and begin the process of crafting their own version of the bill, using the governor’s proposal as a framework. The House is expected to pass its version of the transportation budget by the end of February, sending it over to the Senate where it will be completed by the end of March before being sent to Governor Kasich for his approval. The Main Operating Budget will likely see passage in the House near the end of April, while the Senate will look to pass a version of the bill by mid-June. Final passage of the 2018-19 state budget is expected to occur in late June to take effect on July 1, 2017.

 

Season’s Greetings! GOPC’s 2016 Accomplishments and a 2017 Preview

December 20th, 2016

Staff holiday pic 16

Pictured from left: Jason Warner, Sheldon Johnson, Alex Highley, Meg Montgomery, Torey Hollingsworth, Jon Honeck, Alison Goebel, and John Collier

 

Dear Friends,

From everyone at the Greater Ohio Policy Center, we wish you a safe and enjoyable holiday season!

Throughout 2016, GOPC has been a leader in championing revitalization and sustainable growth in Ohio, ensuring the state is equipped with policies and practices that create robust cities and regions. With so much happening around Ohio, the past twelve months have proven to be busy and rewarding for GOPC in equal measure. We introduced Alison Goebel as our new Executive Director following the departure of Lavea Brachman, and in conjunction with this smooth transition, we achieved many important goals and started planning for even greater success next year. In 2016, we:

  • Published original research reports on many critical revitalization issues in Ohio, including:

o   Akron Urban Health and Competitiveness Report finds that Akron is at a crossroads for further growth and economic development.  This work received extensive coverage from news media, including Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and WCPN

o   Transportation Modernization Memos analyze strategies that improve multimodal transportation and underscore the outsized economic benefits of implementing policies that support all modes

o   Credit Gaps in Opportunity Neighborhoods assesses redevelopment needs and highlights the barriers to revitalization in many of Ohio’s opportunity neighborhoods

o   Green Infrastructure for Stormwater Control analyzes grey and green water and sewer infrastructure and highlights modern, cost-effective strategies for maintaining aging stormwater systems

o   Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities highlights the serious economic and demographic challenges facing smaller legacy cities – received extensive coverage from news media, including WKSU Chillicothe Gazette, and Youngstown Business Journal 

  • Hosted a successful Webinar, attended by over 150 people, examining how Ohio’s smaller legacy cities from Akron to Zanesville have fared over the past 15 years
  • Presented our work at over 25 conferences and meetings in Akron, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Marietta, Toledo, Washington DC, and Youngstown
  • Testified at the statehouse on state policy on issues concerning revitalization including active transportation, foreclosure reform, and brownfield redevelopment
  • Launched brand new Water and Sewer Infrastructure and Smaller Legacy Cities web resources with up-to-date news, original research, and previews of upcoming reports

Coming in 2017…

In 2017, we will build on this momentum and to continue to underscore the importance of Ohio’s cities as the economic drivers of the state. With partners from around the state and nation, we look forward to continuing to research and advocate for policies that revitalize neighborhoods, diversify transportation systems, modernize water and sewer infrastructure, and build strong cities and regions in Ohio.

We can’t wait to host our 2017 Summit, Investing in Ohio’s Future: Maximizing Growth in our Cities and Regions on March 7th & 8th in Columbus. The Summit will explore best practices in financing and accelerating comprehensive and sustainable growth in communities throughout Ohio. We are meticulously planning an exciting and informative event that we predict will be our best Summit yet. We hope you join us!

If you believe in creating vibrant, sustainable cities and regions in Ohio, we invite you to support GOPC with a year-end contribution. We are grateful for your support.

Warm wishes for 2017,

ag signature

Alison Goebel and the Greater Ohio Policy Center Team

 

End-of-Year Legislative Update: 131st General Assembly adjourns amid a flurry of activity

December 19th, 2016

At the conclusion of the 131st Ohio General Assembly, lawmakers worked late into the night of December 8th, passing remaining legislative priorities before adjourning for the year. In the final day of session alone, the legislature passed over 30 bills, all of which will be sent to Governor Kasich for his review and approval. Below is a brief review of approved bills that GOPC has been tracking throughout the legislative process:

  • greater-ohio-flag HB463(Dever) revises the law related to real property foreclosure and escrow transactions and certain partial property tax exemptions. The bill was approved by the Ohio Senate 26-5 and the Ohio House 72-21
  • greater-ohio-flag SB232 (Bacon) makes changes to transfer on death designation deeds and affidavits and also makes changes in the probate and trust laws regarding the inheritance and beneficial rights of afterborn or pretermitted children or heirs. The bill was approved by the Ohio Senate 33-0 and the Ohio House 94-1, and signed into law by Governor Kasich on December 13 (and becomes effective in 90 days)
  • greater-ohio-flag SB235 (Beagle, Coley) permits political subdivisions to exempt from property taxation the increased value of property on which industrial or commercial development is planned for up to six years. The bill was approved by the Ohio Senate 29-2 and the Ohio House 89-1
  • greater-ohio-flag HB554 (Amstutz) revises the requirements for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and peak demand reduction. The bill was approved by the Ohio Senate 18-13 and the Ohio House 55-34
  • greater-ohio-flag HB154 (Henne) establishes a requirement that motor vehicles passing a bicycle must do so on the left at a distance of three feet or more. The bill was approved by the Ohio Senate 30-1 and the Ohio House 88-4

Keep an eye out in GOPC’s January Newsletter for a more detailed review of these bills, along with a preview of the 132nd Ohio General Assembly!

 

StatehouseBirdseye

GOPC’s Open Letter to Ohio EPA Regarding VW Mitigation Funds for Public Transportation

December 13th, 2016

GOPC encourages you to submit formal comments to the Ohio EPA urging them to use Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund dollars for public transportation. Below is a copy of the letter that GOPC submitted on December 13, 2016. You may use this letter as a template for your comments to the Ohio EPA. 

Send your comments to derg@epa.ohio.gov. Comments will be accepted until December 31, 2016.

 

December 13, 2016

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
Attn.: Office of Environmental Education, Diesel Emissions Reduction Grants Program Manager
P.O. Box 1049
Columbus, OH 43216-1049

Subject: Usage of Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Funds for Transit Repower and Replacement

Dear Office of Environmental Education:

My name is Alison Goebel and I am the Executive Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit with a mission to champion revitalization and sustainable growth in Ohio. Thank you for accepting formal comments on the state mitigation plan for the Mitigation Trust Fund associated with the Volkswagen Consent Decree.

I am writing to urge the Ohio EPA to use 50% of the Volkswagen settlement funds to repower and replace diesel vehicles in Ohio’s public transportation fleet.

Public transportation in Ohio has been severely underfunded for years. Currently the state allocates approximately $0.63 per Ohioan to transit, while Ohio’s peers, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, invest over $24.00 per capita. As a result of deferred support, over one-third of Ohio’s 3,200 transit vehicles are still on the road despite being beyond their useful life and in need of replacement.

The state mitigation plan for the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund represents an enormous opportunity.

Half of Ohio’s allotment ($35.7 million) of the Mitigation Trust Fund could:

  • replace more than 125 diesel-powered city buses, or
  • repower more than 700 buses with alternative fuel engines

Using the settlement funds for transit vehicles is the highest and best use of the Mitigation Trust Fund dollars.

The eight largest public transportation systems serving Ohio EPA’s possible priority counties provided more than 105 million rides in 2015. If transit ridership rates remain the same over the ten year life of the Mitigation Trust Fund, Ohio will potentially avoid more than 1.05 billion automobile rides.

Eliminating emissions from outdated diesel transit engines and substantially contributing to the reduction of individual automobile emissions will have extraordinary and compounding benefits for Ohio’s air quality.

GOPC has a number of resources on the multiple benefits of providing Ohio with more transportation options, especially transit. Those materials can be found on our Transportation Modernization webpage. We encourage you to see us as a resource as Ohio EPA writes its state mitigation plan.

Again, we urge the Ohio EPA to use the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund to repower or replace a portion of Ohio’s diesel bus fleet. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Alison D. Goebel, PhD

Executive Director

 

GOPC Testifies on Active Transportation’s Cost Savings, Safety Benefits, and Range of Choice at the Ohio Statehouse

November 28th, 2016

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

During two hearings before the Joint Task Force for Transportation Issues and the Joint Education Oversight Committee last week, GOPC promoted the need for, and benefits of, an Active Transportation policy being adopted for both Ohio’s transportation infrastructure plan, as well as a means to reduce costs around school transportation in the state.

Active Transportation, by definition any human-power transportation system such as walking or bicycling, is increasing in frequency across the state for a variety of reasons. Currently, 33 other states have a statewide active transportation policy. GOPC advocates for an Ohio Active Transportation policy that is sensitive to context (rural vs. suburban vs. urban) and that would facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. GOPC is involved with ODOT and Department of Health’s working group devoted to creating an effective statewide Active Transportation policy that enables safe, convenient, and comfortable travel and access across transportation modes for users of all ages and abilities.

JW cropped

GOPC Manager of Government Affairs Jason Warner

Nationally, the number of fatalities resulting from traffic collisions involving motor vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists is rising. Statistics provided by the Governors Highway Safety Association show a 10% increase during the first half of 2015 over the same time period of the previous year. Sadly, Ohio led all other states, with an increase of 124% in pedestrian fatalities during that period. To boost safety, policymakers should look to implement policies that accommodate more types of users, such as bikers and pedestrians. Encouragingly, a 2015 analysis of 37 Active Transportation projects across the country determined that the projects avoided a total of $18.1 million in collision and injury costs in one year alone.

Active Transportation policies that support and promote multimodal usage result in safer streets, minimize the flow of cars, and often increase economic activity along the modified route.  GOPC’s full testimony before the Joint Transportation Task Force on November 15 is available here, while the Joint Education Oversight Committee testimony from November 17 is available here.

Go here to learn more about GOPC’s research and advocacy on this important issue!

 

GOPC Staff Speaks at MORPC Summit on Sustainability and the Environment

October 25th, 2016

By Jon Honeck, Ph.D., GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Overview

On Friday, October 21, I had the privilege of being a panelist at the MORPC Summit on Sustainability and the Environment, held at the Columbus Hilton Downtown.  The panel’s title was “Looking Ahead, What Are the Important Sustainability Policy Issues?”  The other panelists included Kent Scarrett of the Ohio Municipal League, Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council, and Holly Nagle of the Columbus Chamber.  Panelists were asked to speak about upcoming issues in the lame duck state legislative session and the 2017 state budget process.  In the short run, panelists agreed that Ohio’s renewable portfolio energy standards are likely to be a top priority of the General Assembly when it returns after the 2016 election.  For the 2017 budget process, I focused my presentation on transportation, water and sewer infrastructure, brownfield remediation, and application of public nuisance statutes to commercial and industrial property. 

Transportation

GOPC is trying to improve state funding for public transit and advocate that the state make progress in an “active transportation” strategy that makes roadways safe for all users, including bicyclists and pedestrians.   The Ohio Department of Transportation budget is considered separately from the state main operating budget bill.  The budget scenario for public transit funding is difficult.   Currently the state only provides about 3 percent of overall public transit funding, with local and federal funds providing the largest shares.  On a per capita basis, Ohio ranks 38th highest in the nation in its support for public transit.  GOPC has proposed some ways to provide dedicated funding from the state, but progress is complicated by the need to replace Ohio’s Medicaid managed care sales tax.  Seven local transit authorities rely on a local sales tax and collectively they received $33.6 million from the sales tax on Medicaid premiums. If this funding goes away without a replacement, significant service cuts will result.

Water and Sewer

Many cities across the state are facing a dual challenge of upgrading aging infrastructure and complying with EPA regulations to fix combined sewer overflows that lead to raw sewage being discharged into waterways during major storms.   Over the next 20 years, the EPA estimates that Ohio utilities will need $14.1 billion for wastewater treatment upgrades and $12.1 billion for drinking water infrastructure.  GOPC’s analysis of the problems facing Ohio legacy cities and the need for additional funding can be found here.  These estimates do not include any potential costs of lead service line replacement that may be needed in the wake of public reaction to the situation in Flint, MI.  Under Ohio House Bill 512, Ohio utilities must complete a map of all lead service water supply lines by March, 2017, a date that is in the midst of the state budget process.  The availability of this information may influence public opinion.   

With the Kasich Administration proposing its final budget, sustainability issues will have to hold their own against education, taxation, criminal justice, and other high profile issues.  GOPC will ensure that advocates are informed and can make the case for sustainability during the budget process.  For more information, please sign up for our email updates. 

 

Developing Safe and Effective Urban Transportation through Alternative Planning Strategies

October 21st, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Implementing creative road planning standards can help Ohio’s local leaders who seek to build neighborhoods where travel by car, bus, bicycle, or foot is safe for everyone. In order to maximize the public’s benefit in using streets and sidewalks, cities around Ohio, the country, and the world have begun to reduce the width of street lanes and lower speed limits to improve safety for all roadway users.

Adjusting the width of street lanes creates room to introduce various modes of transportation or other amenities in that particular space.  For instance,  reducing each lane of a 4-lane road from 12 feet to 10 feet creates an extra 8 feet in width, which cities have converted into a dedicated bike lane or sidewalk protected by a buffer zone. Some cities have chosen to cut down lane space in order to create a row for parked cars, especially in retail and entertainment districts.

Research shows that narrower lanes are no more dangerous than wide roads, and in many cases are actually safer for drivers, bikers and walkers. With narrower roads, drivers are forced to be more mindful of the relative position of their car on the road and potential obstacles and are therefore more cautious while driving. Moreover, by reducing road lane width, cities are able lessen the distance pedestrians and bikers must travel to cross the street, which shrinks their risk of being struck by a vehicle. Such a change in traffic design and the added safety features are likely to encourage more people to choose to walk or bike as a result of feeling more secure when travelling on or near the road.

It is important to note that traffic engineers widely recognize the safe usage of 10-foot wide roads in areas where the speed limit does not exceed 35 miles per hour. In Ohio’s urban areas, most city roads operate with 35 miles per hour limits or less and could accommodate this change. Because not all drivers travel at the posted speed limit, traffic engineers design roads so that they still accommodate motorists travelling a few miles an hour over the speed limit.

In situations where road lane size cannot be reduced (due to other infrastructure considerations, financial constraints or political will), lowering speed limits can reduce the risk of injury or death for all users of the road; a 10 mph reduction in travelling speed is shown to have a significant effect on reducing the seriousness of a pedestrian’s sustained injury after having been hit by a vehicle. In Ohio, the Revised Code dictates the speed limit for a number of road types, including those that run through municipalities.  Many of main “in-town” arteries that connect a community have posted speed limits of 35 mph, even as these arteries become used by more and more bicyclists, transit users, and pedestrians. 

GOPC supports policies that enable communities to make their roadways safer for all users.  Giving communities more local control over posted speed limits and instituting Active Transportation policies that support and promote multimodal usage, results in safer streets, has minimal impact on the flow of cars, and often increases economic activity along the modified route. Learn more here about GOPC’s research and advocacy on this important issue!

 

NYC Traffic Engineer Discusses Benefits Cities Accrue from Investments in Walkable, People-Friendly Communities

September 30th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

 Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center attended a lecture given by Sam Schwartz at the Ohio State University. Schwartz is one of the world’s most famous traffic engineers and has recently published a book called Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and Fall of Cars. Known as the “Jane Jacobs of Traffic” and in Canada as the “Wayne Gretzky of Traffic Planning,” Schwartz works with communities to develop more walkable, people-friendly environments that reduce people’s reliance on cars. Like, Schwartz, GOPC advocates for policies that strengthen Ohio’s public transportation systems as well as multimodal systems, which include biking and walking, in order to strengthen neighborhoods and cities.

 Schwartz showed projection graphs from a few decades ago that predicted driving would increase over time. Data show that miles travelled on the road actually began to decline ten years ago. Interestingly, this wane actually began in 2004, thus ruling out the theory that it might have been the Great Recession that caused this decline and instead suggesting that people have become less interested in driving. Even though drivers have travelled fewer miles since 2004, federal budgets for highways and bridges have still risen because they were based on the original projections that driving would increase as well. Thus, an increasing amount of tax revenue has been spent on expanding roads and highways across the country, which Schwartz believes has done very little to improve transportation problems that persist today.

Sam Schwartz

For example, study after study concludes that highway expansion does not actually reduce congestion on the road in the long term. GOPC emphasizes this in much of its policy work and supports methods of highway system preservation rather than expansion, which is especially appropriate in a state that is not substantially adding new population. Schwartz indicates that the concept of induced demand comes into play when roads are widened, whereby people are then more likely to use the road when they know it has been expanded, thus perpetuating the problem that there are an excessive number of vehicles on the road. Instead, in environments where people can choose to bike, walk, or take transit, space opens up and congestion is ameliorated.

Culturally, it seems to Schwartz that young people today are looking to branch out to using multimodal options. He believes that part of this stems from people spending so much time as kids in the backseat of a car going from school, home, and soccer practice. Whereas freedom a few decades ago was seen as owning and using a car, these days he believes it means having a phone app where you have access to many different types of transportation, such as Uber and Lyft, or information on when and where the next bus will arrive. Moreover, much of Schwartz’s work emphasizes the health dangers posed to people who are not active. By building people-friendly environments where people can move around, communities will help reduce the risk factors for many non-communicable diseases caused from inactivity.

Interestingly, Schwartz believes that transit will only be properly funded once the well-to-do start to use it in that particular state or city. Once a community shows that users along the spectrum of socio-economic statuses are using the service, then the mode will likely receive more attention and will generate more resources.

Schwartz’s talk reinforced GOPC’s vision for Ohio—a modernized, well-funded transportation system that adequately supports transit rider, bicyclists, walkers, and drivers.