DeWine Proposes Cutting State Transit Funding

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has proposed slashing state funding for public transit in the 2022 and 2023 state fiscal years.

DeWine recommended $7.3 million for public transit funding whereas the current budget is $70 million over a two-year period.

Actual state funding, though, is $63 million due to COVID-19 pandemic budget cuts in the wake of falling state revenues.

Federal funding of Ohio public transit agencies, which is passed through the state for budgeting purposes, would be about $50 million.

Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks defended the transit funding cut before a state legislative committee by saying DeWine’s proposal reflects what the state has historically spent on transit funding.

State transit funding increased in 2019 as part of a deal made between House Democrats and the legislature’s majority Republicans.

Marchbanks sought to further defend the lower numbers for transit by saying they reflect “budget realities” as the state considers its spending needs.

 “Your point is well made that the need is there,” Marchbanks said in response to a question from one lawmaker.

“But we have in this budget, because of our COVID-based limitations, returned to our historical funding patterns.”

Ohio transit officials countered that Ohio’s spending on public transportation has been among the lowest per capital of any state for several years.

They said that funding cuts would exacerbate the challenges they are already facing in dealing with reduced ridership and revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Public transit is a lifeline for many people and it is worthy of investment, particularly during this pandemic when we’ve discovered the inequality of how COVID is affecting our communities of color,” said Claudia Amrhein, general manager of the Portage Area Regional Transit Authority and president of the Ohio Public Transit Association.

She said public transportation is the only option for many elderly and the poor to get to work and medical appointments.

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority deputy general manager Mike Schipper noted that his agency received $25 million in funding from the current state budget.

Cleveland RTA used that money to buy 16 new buses and to set aside $5 million for rail car replacement.

“Obviously we wouldn’t be funding those things at the reduced amount,” he said.

Machbanks said ODOT’s overall funding is being squeezed due to falling revenue from the state gas tax.

Gas tax receipts have fallen during the pandemic as more people work from home and do less driving.

ODOT officials are planning to meet with transit agencies next week to discuss possible increases in the state’s share of federal “flex” funding for public transit.

“Transit is going to have to be reimagined post-pandemic and many, many transit agencies are trying to figure out what routing patterns they have to put in place, and what funding models work as they provide that critical mobility for people,” Marchbanks said.

Some state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have already signaled that they plan to fight the proposed funding cuts during the legislative proceedings on the next state budget.

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