Officials voice opposition to governor’s turnpike lease idea

North Ridgeville

By John Edwards

To discuss the governor’s idea of privatizing the Ohio Turnpike, State Rep. Matt Lundy, whose 57th House district includes Avon, Avon Lake, Sheffield Village, North Ridgeville and Elyria, hosted a town hall-style meeting Oct. 20 at the Sheffield Village Municipal Complex.

Joining him, and at least 50 other people, were 56th district Rep. Dan Ramos (whose constituents reside in Sheffield Lake, Lorain and western Lorain County, south to Oberlin) and retired 57th district state Rep. John Bender. Gov. John Kasich has publicly stated his intent to lease the Ohio Turnpike for 50 years to one of five corporations for a one-time payment of $3 billion.

“I thought some of my Republican colleagues, especially those in districts north of I-70, might vote against it to save the turnpike, and that some south of I-70 would vote against it to save the prisons,” Lundy, a Democrat, said. “But none did. They voted the party line. So, since the legislature isn’t allowed to say yes or no, the only way we can stop this is by a referendum like Issue 2, to repeal Senate Bill 5.”

Lundy, Ramos and Bender stated their beliefs, as did some members of the audience, that Kasich’s plan is bad for Ohio, and especially for northern Ohio. The governor’s plan to use a $3 billion, one-time lease payment – with zero annual income to follow – to rebuild infrastructure will mainly benefit southern Ohio, officials said.

A turnpike lease like the one used in Indiana includes non-compete clauses. All five parties vying to be Kasich’s choice are from outside Ohio or are foreign corporations. Those corporate bidders include Citibank, Morgan-Stanley and an Australian-Spanish consortium headed by Macquarie Infrastructure Group. Lundy said the contract language rules out legislative input on turnpike privatization and the disposition of prisons, and those details were “buried in the biennial budget,” a document that passed along party lines in the House and Senate.

Lundy and Teamsters Local 436 President Gary Tiboni detailed a number of reasons to oppose privatizing the turnpike. Tiboni, whose union represents turnpike employees, including maintenance, snowplow drivers and toll booth workers, said since the previously mentioned Australian-Spanish consortium leased the Indiana Turnpike for 75 years for $3.8 billion, that state’s toll road has been neglected and is deteriorating.

“We can look at Indiana and see what will happen if we privatize the turnpike,” Lundy said. “In the five years since the lease, tolls have more than doubled, maintenance of the road and rest areas has gone by the wayside, it’s losing money and now the foreign company that leased the Indiana Turnpike is in danger of defaulting on their loans.”

“The Ohio Turnpike is 241 miles long, it’s self sustaining and made a $20 million profit last year and will clear even more this year,” Tiboni added. “Why would you even think of getting rid of an asset that made you $20 million? The Indiana Turnpike is crap. If the turnpike is privatized, the truck drivers aren’t going to put up with higher tolls and poor maintenance. They’ll use other Ohio highways, which will get torn up.”

He went on to say, “This is a slap in the face to turnpike workers, who’ve already taken wage freezes and made other concessions” to prevent being laid off in favor of automated toll gates.

“Why lease something that makes money, uses no tax dollars and feeds local economies?” Tiboni asked. “A foreign leasing company won’t do all that.”

Lundy cited a letter from former turnpike director Gary Suhadolnik, a Republican, who called Kasich’s lease plan a “Robin Hood concept to get turnpike users to subsidize infrastructure elsewhere.”

“This just another of the governor’s extreme ideas for Ohio,” Lundy said. “Our job in government is to listen to the people we work for. It’s irresponsible for Governor Kasich not to do the same. If he would actually listen, he’d quickly learn that Ohioans don’t like or support his extreme ideas.”

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