COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio senators plan to remove earmarks for $1 billion in one-time spending from the state operating budget and place the money into a new fund for community projects to be doled out next spring, a high-level Ohio Senate source told The Associated Press.
Creation of the One-Time Strategic Community Investment Fund, to be announced Tuesday, would nix many earmarks for infrastructure and other projects contained in the House's version of the $88 billion, two-year spending blueprint, the individual said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the announcement were still being finalized.
The fund will be created from leftover federal revenue and taxpayer money from fiscal year 2023, which the Ohio House and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine have proposed spending in different ways. The Senate concept is to help lawmakers make thoughtful, one-time funding decisions for priority transportation or capital projects and keep the budget document focused on policy decisions, the person said.
Projects eligible to be covered by the fund could include transportation projects, such as road and bridge construction or public transportation, and brick-and-mortar community projects benefiting schools, jails, zoos, museums, parks, waterfronts and other local facilities.
The move appears aimed at the $1 billion in one-time money that the House budget earmarks for Connect4Ohio, which would be a new program administered by the Ohio Department of Transportation aimed at shortening commutes and easing truck delivery times across the state.
Specifically, the House-passed bill allocated: $200 million for bridge replacement projects; $200 million for local matching grants; $24 million for infrastructure improvements supporting the $20 billion Intel chip factory being built east of Columbus; $6.2 million for road improvements in a southwestern Ohio county that contains a stretch of Interstate 71; and $1 million to study connecting two deep sea ports in northern Ohio. Lawmakers also set aside $62 million for the Haslam Sports Group's proposed land bridge in Cleveland, and it is now unknown how the Senate's changes might affect that funding.
No less than a third of the money must go to rural county construction projects under the House plan. But slashing these projects from the operating budget isn't a statement on their value, the source said. In fact, the new fund was created to ensure that worthwhile projects could still find funding with money that the state is just sitting on.
State senators will also announce further changes to the state's operating budget Tuesday.
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.