Elected officials are fantastic at kicking cans down the road. They are not always so great at looking ahead to where those cans might wind up. But it is time for Ohio lawmakers to take a long-distance view of what could happen to the state’s annual transportation budget as drivers make the transition to electric vehicles.
This is a decades-long transition, of course, and one that is not easy to consider in a one-and-done committee meeting. A report by Energy News points out gasoline and diesel taxes make up nearly $2 billion of the state’s $8.3 billion biennial transportation budget. The loss of that money, in addition to other sources of revenue from fossil fuels, could dramatically affect budgets for roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
But there is a tendency in Columbus to look backward, and cling to what has gotten us this far. That’s a problem that has “driven policymakers to pursue a ‘business as usual’ scenario and try to keep these traditional generation assets open,” said Gilbert Michaud, an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Environmental Sustainability, according to Energy News. “This has certainly been the case in Ohio, where regressive energy policies continue to be passed to bail out these polluting — but high tax revenue — assets while stifling the growth of the renewable energy industry.”
Small-government, fiscally responsible, free-market elected officials should know better than to be propping up any declining industry. Certainly they’ve been critical enough of subsidies for renewable energy companies in other states.
But while lawmakers tread water, those most affected by the transition already are looking ahead. Matt Bruning of the Ohio Department of Transportation knows “the current gas tax model is not sustainable for the long term.”
ODOT is looking for funding sources such as federal grants, maybe even a road-use charge. It is conducting a study to “assess the public’s appetite for the various options,” Bruning told Energy News.
That’s the kind of creativity and forward thinking that lawmakers will need, too. Let us hope they do not wait too long to flip the switch
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