Three ongoing waterfront projects in the state’s largest cities top the list of millions in funding sought in the upcoming capital appropriations bill by consortia representing the most populous regions in Ohio.

Among the biggest asks are $13.5 million for three projects tied to Cleveland’s lakefront improvement initiative, a $10 million boost for next phase of The Banks development in Cincinnati, and $5 million each for Columbus’s Peninsula Park and Center of Science and Industry, both of which are located along the banks of the Scioto River downtown.

The requests for the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 capital bill were detailed in proposals submitted in recent weeks to the General Assembly and Gov. John Kasich‘s administration. They set the stage for some intense behind-the-scenes horse trading among lawmakers and administration officials ahead this spring’s introduction of the usually biannual bricks-and-mortar legislation.

If history is any guide, debate over the local “community project” requests will consume most of the deliberations on the bill even though the money allotted to such initiatives – usually on a matching fund basis tied with local input – accounts for only a fraction of the total bond-backed outlay in the package.

For instance, the last two-year capital bill (HB497, 130th General Assembly) included about $2.4 billion in new state project spending, of which only $168 million was earmarked for the local projects. Still, Mr. Kasich’s proposed process for divvying up those funds and the administration’s own development of a “wish list” rankled legislative leaders who saw his moves as an overreach into General Assembly prerogatives. 

This time around, the administration has apparently been less prescriptive, and Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) reiterated recently that he viewed the process as one better led by lawmakers with close ties to the communities.

“The members who represent these districts understand best their communities and those members will be the folks that will be driving this capital bill process because in the end they’re voting on it,” he said.

Speaker Rosenberger said the total amount of funding for community projects “might be a little less than last time,” but the number isn’t finalized.

The local project target for this year’s version, which is expected to be unveiled in early April, is about $150 million, according to other officials familiar with the planning discussions, and per usual, the total amount of requests will exponentially exceed that guidance limit.

House Finance Committee Chairman Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) said he has asked members to submit project proposals by Feb. 15 with the expectation that a capital bill will be introduced when lawmakers return from spring break.

Without providing details of projects he and other members are looking to fund, he said he’s asked members to “hone in” on requests that are in line with those that have qualified for dollars in the past.

“I don’t have a big priority or anything at this point,” Rep. Smith said in an interview. “My focus right now is just to collect all the information I can from all the different sources and sit down with members and talk through it and see what we can include in the bill.”

The submissions from the regional groups represent the next phase of capital bill planning, which started last year when the Office of Budget and Management issued its guidance to state agencies for seeking funds to further their facility needs. 

If the process plays out like it did two years ago, the funding deals will be all but cut by the time the bill is introduced and it will sail through the legislature without any major changes. 

This year’s version is likely to start in the Senate, although given how the process has worked in recent years, the chamber of origin is somewhat perfunctory. The upper chamber, for instance, did not amend the House-passed version of the last capital bill, sending it straight to Gov. Kasich for his signature with strong bipartisan support and without the need for a concurrence vote.

While individual cities and counties will ply the legislature for certain projects, the larger metropolitan regions in the state usually account for most of the community appropriations. As such, and to avoid squabbling that could put project funding at risk, those local government entities usually band together to develop regional proposals or “white papers” they present to the state in a united front.

An example of how the process can get dicey on the local level came to light late last year when Mahoning Valley lawmakers sent a letter to local community leaders telling them to submit requests directly to their offices.

The lawmakers said they became alarmed when the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber “had reportedly been soliciting various entities to retain them on a fee-for-service basis to advocate for capital bill requests.”

“In order to avoid even the mere appearance of impropriety we will not regard the chamber as a facilitator or evaluator of capital bill requests going forward,” the letter stated.

Project examples from the regional requests, some of which coincide with higher education projects, along with links to their full lists of proposals are as follows:

Akron Area: The Greater Akron Chamber’s wish list includes about $15.26 million in development and community improvement projects and nearly $7.5 million for arts and culture initiatives.

The multi-county area’s development proposals include $3 million for the University of Akron’s Main Street development; $2 million each for Stark State College’s Akron Center and Akron’s Cascade Plaza; about $1.8 million each for Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens and Western Reserve Historical Society; $1.4 million for Summit County’s battered women shelter; and $1.2 million for STEM/Soap Box Derby. (Full Akron Area List)

 Cincinnati/Hamilton County: By far the biggest ticket item among $24.65 million in requests for the area is $10 million for Phase III of The Banks, the mixed use development nestled between Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park along the Ohio River.

Also among the requests from the city and county are: $3 million for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden; $2 million each for the Center for Addiction Treatment and University of Cincinnati Health’s Barrett Cancer Center; and $1.25 million each for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and Art Museum. (Full Cincinnati/Hamilton List)

Cleveland Area: The list provided to the legislature Wednesday by the Greater Cleveland Partnership includes three projects under the “Lakefront” header. They are $8.5 million for a lakefront pedestrian bridge; $4 million for restoring the Irish Town Bend and $1 million for a bridge to Wendy Park.

The region also seeks: $10 million for the Health Education Campus requested by the Cleveland Clinic/Case Western Reserve University; $8.1 million for the Flats East development; and $5 million for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. (Full Cleveland List)

Columbus/Central Ohio: The capital city area’s $30.3 million in requests include: $5 million for the Scioto Peninsula Park and garage; $5 million for a COSI expansion; and $5 million for an athletic facility sought by the Greater Columbus Sports Commission.

Other project fund asks by the region include: $1.55 million for the Columbus Crew’s MAPFRE Stadium improvements; $1.5 million each for the Columbus College of Art & Design, and CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence; $1.3 million for the YMCA; and $1 million each for OhioHealth, Pickaway Progress Partnership, Marysville Advanced Manufacturing & Research, and Franklin Park Conservatory. (Full Columbus Area List)

Dayton Region: The list from the area chambers’ Priority Development and Advocacy Committee is topped by a nearly $5 million request for Wilmington Air Park infrastructure improvements.

The region also seeks: $5 million for the Dayton Art Institute’s Centennial; $3.4 million for Project M&M; $2.8 million for Boonshoft Museum of Discovery’s STEM Education Wing; $2.5 million for Springfield’s downtown parking facility; and $1.9 million for the Dayton Aviation Heritage Development Project. (Full Dayton Area List)

Mahoning Valley: A list of proposals compiled by Sen. Capri Cafaro‘s (D-Hubbard) office for the northeast Ohio region is topped by a $10 million request for the Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center and nearly $3.3 million for the Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway.

Other area proposals include: $2.84 million each for the African American Cultural Center and CNG Fueling Station; $2 million for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; $1.27 million for the Youngstown Air Reserve Station; $1.25 million for the Glenbeigh expansion in Ashtabula County; and $1 million each for St. Joseph Warren Hospital, and Youngstown Amphitheater and Front Street Park project. (List of Valley Projects)

Toledo Area: The area’s Regional White Paper Committee submitted several proposals and provided funding rages for requests. The region’s largest funding request – for up to $3.5 million – is for the Toledo Museum of Art’s Polishing the Gem Project. The second-biggest is up to $2.5 million for the Promenade Park and ProMedica parking facility.

Other area requests include up to: $1 million for the Cocoon Emergency Shelter; $900,000 for Sauder Village Experience; and $700,000 each for the City of Sylvania’s SOMO Project and Downtown Toledo Music Hall. (Full Toledo Area List)

This year’s capital budget continues the return to the two-year cycle that was interrupted by the Great Recession. During those tight budget years, officials slimmed down bonding authority for state-owned buildings and eliminated funding for community projects in an attempt to cut debt obligations.

Speaker Rosenberger said the fact that a capital budget is possible at all this cycle is testament to the state’s financial recovery.

“You can’t have a capital budget without sound policy, and for the last five years I’m glad to be a part of this House and working with the governor to just get to this point where we can have capital bills to help the communities,” he said.