(TNS) — Saying Ohio's economic competitiveness and residents' livelihoods are at stake, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray says he would ask Ohio voters to approve a $1.8 billion-plus bond package to upgrade the state's crumbling infrastructure.
If the Republican-controlled General Assembly refuses to place the measure on the ballot, Cordray said Thursday he would lead an effort to gather the signatures of more than 300,000 Ohioans to force a public vote.
Cordray did not estimate the size of the bond package — which would require no tax increase, with the borrowing paid back with existing state revenues — beyond saying it would be larger than any sought by past governors.
"The potholes and the road problems are worse than ever," Cordray said at the construction site where the Ohio Department of Transportation is replacing the 50-year-old Grant Avenue bridge over I-70.
Despite the talk from Republican President Donald Trump and members of the GOP-controlled Congress, no infrastructure money is forthcoming from Washington D.C., meaning Ohio must act on its own, Cordray said.
"If we don't step up to address it, we harm out ability to compete," the candidate said of improving roads and bridges, public transit, water systems and rural access to broadband Internet services.
"Ohio's infrastructure is critical to our state's economic future — it's how we get to work, how we do business and how we get the good we grow or manufacture here to markets," Cordray said.
Cordray said part of his plan would provide dedicated funding to Ohio's public transit systems, which it now lacks, and work with the private sector to spread high-speed Internet service to the estimated one-third of rural households now lacking broadband access.
He also said he would consider selling unneeded state properties to raise money to support infrastructure or economic development projects.
In a reference to the failure of federal government to escalate infrastructure funding, Cordray said he would reopen the long-shuttered state office in Washington D.C. to work on the state's behalf to capture federal funds.
Cordray flatly ruled out seeking an increase in the state fuel tax to raise more money for road and bridge repairs, citing the state's $2.7 billion rainy-day fund and more taxes to accompany a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing states to collect sales taxes from online retailers without an in-state physical presence.
His opponent, Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, has said he would appoint a blue-ribbon commission of citizens and experts shortly after taking office to "come back with a quick assessment about where we are on infrastructure and come back with recommendations" on how to fund a fix. DeWine then says he would talk with voters about how to raise infrastructure funds.
DeWine campaign spokesman Joshua Eck said of Cordray's plan: "So, Richard Cordray's plan is to max out the credit card and raid the rainy day fund back down to 89 cents. The voters rejected that plan back in 2010 when they voted (Gov.) Ted Strickland and Richard Cordray out of office the last time."
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Ohio a "D+" in its 2017 infrastructure report card — the same grade granted America as a whole — citing a litany of drinking-water needs, iffy roads, deteriorated bridges and potentially hazardous dams.
©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.