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Ohio Budget Proposal Recommends 90% Cut To Public Transportation Fund

A COTA bus in downtown Columbus in May 2020.
Ryan Hitchcock
A COTA bus in downtown Columbus in May 2020.

The latest budget proposal from Gov. Mike DeWine includes cutting Ohio's public transportation fund by tens of millions of dollars. Public transit advocates say this puts the state headed in the wrong direction.

The budget recommends a funding line for public transportation be cut from $70 million a year down to $7 million.

State Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus) says cutting public transit becomes an issue of equity.

"Where other people have access to scooters, and Uber, and Lyft, that's not the case for east and southeast Columbus residents," Crawley says. "They don't have the money and they don't have the access."

The funding pot in question is from the General Revenue Fund for public transportation, which has a history of being lower than $10 million a year.

During the last debate over the FY20-21 budget, DeWine proposed putting the funding at $6.5 million. However, the Ohio General Assembly amended the language to boost it up to $70 million. The fund was included in cuts the state made across the board during the recession last year.

For FY18-19, former Gov. John Kasich proposed the line item for public transit to stand at $7.3 million. In the end, that fund was set at around $2 million.

DeWine has also proposed a $50 million project to encourage people to relocate to Ohio, which could include outreach to people who once lived in the state but have since moved. Crawley says that when young workers are looking for a place to live, effective public transportation is usually a priority.

"I think it's a complete contradiction, if you want to tell Ohio's story and attract people here, then you have to have an Ohio economy and a system that will work for everyone, where you can get to and from places with convenience," Crawley says.

The Ohio Department of Transportation points out other money streams that come from outside the General Revenue Fund, including federal flexible dollars. ODOT says it is working with local transit organizations to discuss the needs around the state, which could result in allocating more of this federal money for public transportation.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.