- Lance Lambert Staff Writer
The $2.6 billion capital budget that was unveiled in Columbus Tuesday includes more than a billion dollars for local school construction and higher education, an investment lawmakers say is possible because of the state’s improved financial health.
“Because of Ohio’s strong fiscal health, we can make responsible investments in our state’s infrastructure and services for the benefit of all Ohioans,” Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said.
“This funding will bring jobs, economic and cultural development and quality of life to Ohio’s communities and citizens.”
The top-funded agency is the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which oversees school construction, with $716.8 million, according to an analysis by the Legislative Service Commission.
The Department of Higher Education is second with $537 million in funding.
The legislature generally approves a capital budget every two years to fund construction and maintenance projects.
The wide-ranging capital bill would pump $500 million into water, sewer and other infrastructure projects through the Public Works Commission. Included in that is $100 million to support the Clean Ohio program.
Sen. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton, the Senate Finance Chair and chief sponsor, called the bill an investment in Ohio.
“From the arts to education to roadways, the state capital budget plays a major role in bringing jobs, opportunities and a sense of pride to our local communities,” he said.
“Funding these projects exemplifies how private investors, community leaders and the state can come together to improve our hometowns. I’m pleased with what we were able to accomplish.”
Wright State University and Sinclair Community College each have projects in the bill that add up to about $10 million.
Wright State’s biggest item is $3 million for campus-wide modernization and maintenance of instructional laboratories. It also hopes to get $2.5 million in campus-wide elevator upgrades in the final version of the bill.
Sinclair’s projects include a $2.9 million electrical grid replacement and $2.85 million for a library roof/plaza membrane and concrete repair.
The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery would receive $1 million and the Dayton Art Institute’s Centennial, Preservation & Accessibility is also in line for $1 million.
Franklin County, home to state government and Ohio State University, is slated to get the most funds — $222.6 million. Cuyahoga County is a distant second with $61.3 million. Meanwhile, Montgomery County projects would receive about $21 million — ranking 13th in the state despite having the fifth largest population.
Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, says counties vary for a multitude of reasons. For instance, he says, Franklin County has the largest Ohio university — Ohio State University — and is home to many state government offices, thus increasing its haul.
Higher education uptick
If the current version of the capital budget is signed into law, Ohio community colleges and universities would receive around a 6 percent increase from the previous biannual budget.
Local college leaders say that’s a positive sign for Ohio higher education to increase funding, while other states like Louisiana and Illinois cut spending on schools.
“It moves (higher education and community colleges) in the right direction. Two cycles ago we didn’t get any money. Given aging infrastructure (this money) is important,” said Sinclair President Steven Johnson. Johnson was among the four community college presidents and four university presidents appointed by Gov. John Kasich to hash out the capital allocation for the state’s higher education institutions.
While higher education will likely receive more funds, they have yet to reach the allocation levels from a decade ago, officials say. When adjusting for inflation, Ohio colleges and universities received more than $700 million in 2001-02 — a figure that declined each budget between 2003-04 and 2011-12.
Higher education experts say those declines lead to more deferred maintenance. Indeed, an analysis by this newspaper in February found that 10 of the state’s 14 public universities collectively have at least $2.8 billion in deferred maintenance: everything from underground pipes, deteriorating bricks to electrical upgrades.
University and college officials say those costs also fall to students, with schools pulling more from their general funds to pay for maintenance.
Meanwhile, the budget represents the third consecutive biannual spending plan that will kick more money to higher education institutions.
Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., said he’s glad to see the state’s community colleges receive a larger proportion increase, compare to the state’s universities.
“Clark State, Sinclair and Edison are so critical to work force development. Our next challenge is addressing the skills gap. Community colleges will have a have critical place in filling this void,” Antani said.
Antani was among 21 House members who voiced that more of the funds should go to community colleges.
“Not only do (universities) have shiny building that are unnecessary, even academic space is less conservative. Where you put money shows your priority. (We need to) put money towards efficient colleges,” he said.