COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Senate began deliberations Tuesday on a $1.9 billion ballot issue for new state borrowing to pay for road, bridge and other public works projects. The chamber's finance committee, in its first session of the new year, heard sponsor testimony on Senate Joint Resolution 6, which seeks to renew Ohio's State Capital Improvement Program for another decade. The bond issue originally was OK'd in 1987, with renewals approved by voters in 1995 and 2005. The new amendment seeks up to $175 million in state borrowing annually for five years (up from $150 million currently), followed by up to $200 million annually for the remaining five years. The proceeds would be used for grants for local roads, bridges, water supply, wastewater treatment, storm water collection and solid waste disposal. "Project selection is handled at the local level, where community leaders establish regional priorities and outline the projects in need of attention," said Sen. Kevin Bacon (R- Columbus ), a Defiance native and primary co-sponsor of the resolution. Supporters hope to place the issue before voters during the May primary. Michael Miller , director of the Ohio Public Works Commission , told members of the Senate finance committee Tuesday the timing will provide enough time to consider new projects once the current bonding period ends in July 2015 . "While the new authority contained in SJR 6 would not be obligated until July of 2016, it is critical to have the constitutional authority in place to avoid disruption in the appropriation, planning and selection of projects for the program year 2016 obligations," he said. "Traditionally, this planning process would begin in May of 2015 ..." Tim Keen , Kasich's budget director, added that debt would remain "well below the state's 5 percent constitutional debt-service limitation," even with the renewal. "The state's total outstanding general revenue fund-backed debt at the end of this fiscal year is projected to be $9.5 billion ," he said. "Annual GRF debt service of about $1.2 billion represents 3.9 percent of GRF plus lottery profit." He added, "Given the state's strong fiscal condition -- thanks to the governor's leadership and support of the general assembly -- this proposal's additional annual debt service of $40 million , relative to the existing level of debt service for this program, is clearly manageable and affordable ..." Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.
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