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Voters asked to renew money for infrastructure

Local elected officials, business leaders, union representatives and planning groups are asking voters on May 6 to reauthorize a program that has provided more than $460 million for infrastructure improvements in the region.

Issue 1 renews the State Capital Improvement Program for another 10 years and authorizes the state during that time to provide about $1.87 billion in grants and loans to local governments for road, bridge, sewer and other projects.

Ohio voters approved the program in 1987 and have since renewed it twice, most recently in 2005, when it passed with 54.1 percent of the vote.

“This is a bonding issue for infrastructure — this is not a new tax, this is not an additional tax,” Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said at a press conference Wednesday. “I ask that folks will support this — the chamber supports it, the business community supports this, and this is a good example of where government and the private sector have both said this is vitally important for us to pass once again for another 10-year bond issue.”

There are few vocal opponents of Issue 1.

But Republican Rep. John Becker, of Union Township in Clermont County, was one of the two Ohio legislators to vote against placing the measure on the ballot.

“My opposition to putting Issue 1 on the ballot was a protest vote against excessive spending in Columbus,” he said. “We can’t be arguing in favor of eliminating taxes and then spending money at five times the inflation rate.”

Issue 1 allows the state to issue $1.875 billion in general obligation bonds over 10 years to provide grants and loans to local governments for road, bridge, sewer and other improvement projects.

Only two members of the Ohio House voted against putting Issue 1 on the ballot on May 6, and no state senators voted against the move.

Issue 1 does not raise taxes, but taxpayer dollars will be needed to pay for the money it borrowed and the interest on those bonds.

Despite the widespread support of Issue 1 from members of both political parties, local officials say they fear a general lack of knowledge about the importance of the program could be a liability during the election.

“You haven’t seen a lot of advertising and you haven’t seen a lot of signage, and my fear is apathy,” said Kettering Mayor Don Patterson, the co-chair of the Montgomery County Issue 1 Campaign. “This is an issue that everybody is behind: Whether a Democrat, Republican, business or labor, this is something (where) everybody sees a benefit and can have a piece of the pie.”

Since voters first approved the program, it has provided about $83.9 million in grants and loans for infrastructure improvements in Butler County, $19.6 million in Champaign County, $42.6 million in Clark County, $39.8 million in Greene County, $38.9 million in Miami County, $212 million in Montgomery County and $30.4 million in Warren County, according to the Ohio Public Works Commission.

The funds have helped pay for hundreds of projects across the region, including the reconstruction of Brown Street in Dayton and the widening of County Line Road in Kettering.

The state allocates the capital improvement funds to districts across the state — Montgomery County is one district — and each year a local committee made up mostly of government officials ranks and scores project proposals to determine how to distribute the money, said Paul Gruner, the Montgomery County engineer.

Montgomery County typically uses state capital improvement grants and loans as the local match required for projects that use federal infrastructure funds, Gruner said. The county has received more than $57 million from the program.

“Our operating budget has been flat since ‘93 … so we’re strapped to fund the program we have,” Gruner said. “We would be in real dire straits without the State Capital Improvement Program.”

Statewide, more than 11,500 road, bridge, sewer and other improvement projects were funded in part using capital improvement grants and interest-free loans. The program also has created tens of thousands of jobs since its inception, and the renewal will create about 35,000 more construction and related jobs in the next decade, supporters say.

The other dissenting legislator — Republican state Rep. Ron Hood, of Ashville — told another Ohio news organization that he thought a greater share of voters than legislators would oppose Issue 1 because they were concerned with excessive government spending.

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