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