Policy Matters: Use gas tax hike to fund transit too
Posted February 27, 2019 in Press Releases
As state policymakers contemplate raising the gas tax to fund much-needed repairs to Ohio’s highways and roads, Policy Matters Ohio asked the House Finance committee to set aside part of that new revenue to fund public transit.
With a $1 billion hole in the transportation budget, Governor Mike DeWine proposed increasing the gas tax by $0.18 a gallon last week. While the crisis for Ohio’s highways and roads has recently gotten more attention, Ohio has neglected public transportation for decades. Policy Matters Senior Researcher Amanda Woodrum told the committee that the state constitution allows gas tax revenues to go towards “other statutory highway purposes.”
“That means this legislature could declare, by statute, public transportation has a highway purpose,” she said. “Investing in public transportation and other alternatives modes of transportation is a decongestion, preservation and highway safety strategy. The more people who take public transportation, walk or bike, the fewer cars there will be, lessening wear and tear on roads and highways. “
The gas tax is regressive, meaning low- and middle-income Ohioans pay higher shares of their incomes than wealthier Ohioans. All Ohioans pay the same rate per gallon, but lower-income families spend a higher share of their income on basic needs like transportation. Improving the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which boosts the incomes of low-wage workers, would offset the regressively of the gas tax, Woodrum said.
“Ohio spends billions each year on transportation and only 1 percent goes toward public transit,” Woodrum said. “The vast majority of that funds roads and highways. As a result, the transportation system is difficult to navigate without a car. But cars can be prohibitively expensive for low-income families and may not be a safe option for people who are elderly or have disabilities.” She called on the state legislature to dedicate at least $180 million for a Transportation Choice fund, with $30 million for safe pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure and $150 million for public transit, as was recommended by the Ohio Department of Transportation’s 2015 Transit Needs Study.
“By limiting our transportation options, we limit access to education, jobs, health care, and much more,” Woodrum said. “This hurts workers, employers, and people who are elderly or have disabilities. Ohio must invest to build a transportation system that works for everyone.”