Gov. John Kasich pushed the state legislature in 2013 to use toll money to bolster the Ohio Department of Transportation’s budget by changing state law to allow for turnpike toll money to be used for non-turnpike projects.
CLEVELAND (AP) Most of the claims in a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s 2013 decision to use $930 million in Ohio Turnpike tolls to fund non-turnpike highway and construction projects have been thrown out by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster wrote in a recent 14-page opinion that the money from the Ohio Turnpike Commission benefits turnpike users, even if it is not used for maintenance of the turnpike itself, Northeast Ohio Media Group reported.
Gov. John Kasich pushed the state legislature in 2013 to use toll money to bolster the Ohio Department of Transportation’s budget by changing state law to allow for turnpike toll money to be used for non-turnpike projects. The change was put into the biennial budget that year,
The commission increased tolls 2.7 percent for each year until 2023 to pay for the projects. The increases started in January 2014, and the lawsuit sought to have the state reimburse drivers who paid toll money that went toward those projects.
Polster wrote that the plaintiff, Cuyahoga County resident Melissa Ullmo, didn’t prove the money was used on unrelated projects, which was at the heart of the lawsuit filed in May. The judge concluded that the money was used on related transportation projects.
The judge also dismissed claims that the commission illegally charged excessive tolls and used them on projects that don’t benefit toll payers.
However, Polster kept alive a claim that an increase in tolls constitutes an illegal tax on Turnpike users. Ullmo’s lawyer, Jim DeRoche, said he was pleased with that decision.
“We are confident that this was a truly revenue-generating measure and that we are going to succeed on that claim in state court,’’ DeRoche said.
Commission spokesman Brian Newbacher declined to comment on the illegal tax claim, but said they’re “obviously pleased’’ with the dismissal of the other claims.