Keep tax debate clean

Like many other states, Ohio has a semi-transparent system of funding highway and bridge maintenance and construction. The vast majority of state funding for the purpose comes from a tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. More than a billion dollars a year is derived from that source.

Gov. Mike DeWine has suggested the current 28-cent per gallon tax should be increased by 18 cents. That has been popular with just about no one. After all, that would mean that a motorist would pay another $3-4 per fill-up, or perhaps more depending on the type of vehicle they drive.

But one alternative, lumping the fuel tax issue with changes in other tax structures, ought to be even less acceptable.

Using fuel tax income to provide a state income tax break, as has been suggested, is absurd. Why take money out of one of a motorist’s pockets, merely to put it into the other?

A similar situation has played out locally in recent years, when severance tax proceeds on natural gas and oil were used to help make a statewide income tax cut possible. The oil and gas are being produced here, and local resident must deal with the negatives that come with that industry — a transient population of workers, noise and concerns and the environment, as well as even more road damage than is being seen in other parts of the state. Yet the benefits of the tax cut were felt in all corners of the state.

Suggestions that loopholes in other taxes be closed as part of the fuel tax debate also make no sense. Either close them or not, but let the discussion over funding for roads and bridges be a clean, clear one.

Legislators seem unlikely to go along with the governor’s proposal. In fact, the state House of Representatives has approved a proposal that would lower the proposed tax hike to about 10 cents per gallon. The state Senate may have its own ideas about the amount as well.

Fine.

But muddying the water by engaging in a free-for-all over taxation in general makes no sense.

For now, Ohioans know that their fuel tax dollars go to roads and bridges. Whatever the rate of that tax, the money should continue going to the state Department of Transportation.

COMMENTS