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Who pays for roads in Ohio?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/15/11 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Transportation choices

Policy Matters Ohio released "Who pays for the roads in Ohio?" Modeled on Wisconsin's report, it sorts truth from the fictional accounts of highway lobbyists who claim freeways are free. It turns out, roads in Ohio are not paid for exclusively by those who use them. Tax payers help drivers pick up the tab-subsidizing 18 percent or $922 million each year of highway and road building-through local income, property and sales taxes. Reports like these help demystify statements that highways are cost neutral.

The Policy Matters report valiantly attempts to parse the hidden cost to drive a car. But it also touches third rail issues, comparing highway taxpayer subsidies to the cost of the 3-C rail line. In our opinion, it would be better to focus on the data so that future pieces that rely on it to inform policy decisions aren't, um, derailed.

The power of a piece like this-and where Wisconsin's does it right-is in keeping the message simple: Right now, no one knows that our general taxes are paying for 18 percent or $922 million a year for road projects in Ohio. It's even higher in Wisconsin.

We like the way the Wisconsin piece summarizes the issue:

"Transportation is one of the biggest ticket items for the state and local government. The cost is high, and so is the misunderstanding of who pays for what."

Ohio shades it this way: "Transportation is expensive for citizens, business and government. The cost is high, but so is misunderstanding of who pays for what. And that leads to bad political and market decisions."

This is a first cut at the data for Ohio. The next step may be to look at where that 18 percent is going-to highways vs. local roads-and what urban residents are being taxed per lane mile vs. rural taxpayers. Then, it will be easier to make comparisons with taxpayer subsidies to other forms of transportation like mass transit.

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