- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Voters will have the chance to decide in May whether to renew a public works program that funds repairs and upgrades to roads, bridges and other local infrastructure needs.

The ballot issue would allow the state to borrow $1.875 billion over 10 years through the issuance of general obligation bonds. The Ohio Public Works Commission would use the money to provide grants and loans to local governments for capital improvement projects. Those could include updates to roadways, wastewater treatment systems and sanitary collection.

Ohio voters previously approved the program in 1987, 1995 and 2005. If approved, the constitutional amendment would take effect immediately.

Gov. John Kasich made the program’s renewal a priority this year. And the proposal had bipartisan backing in the Legislature, whose support led to the issue being placed on the primary ballot.

The measure lacks outspoken opponents. Associations representing county commissioners, townships and municipalities have praised the effort and the program’s renewal.

A group of county engineers and other supporters has been trying to spread the word about the ballot issue, said Chan Cochran, a longtime adviser to Kasich and a political consultant who is working with the grassroots campaign.

Cochran said a small county can easily burn through several years’ worth of their budgets for bridge replacements or major roadway fixes.

“This helps get projects done that would have to wait years or decades for local funding,” he said.

The public works program has funded more than 11,500 projects in the last 27 years, though it runs out of money after July 1, 2015.

This year’s proposal boosts the amount of funding compared to prior years. The initiative would increase the bond funding levels to $175 million annually for the first five years and then $200 million each year for the remaining five years. That’s up from the $1.35 billion voters agreed to in 2005.