U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, held a roundtable discussion about infrastructure with local officials at the headquarters of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority.
CANTON President Donald Trump has pledged to propose a trillion dollar plan to improve the nation's infrastructure over 10 years.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, met with more than two dozen people Thursday afternoon to discuss what he should push for the money to go for in Stark County and Ohio. He said he supported strong "Buy America" provisions but also provisions that all workers in projects funded by the plan be paid prevailing wage. Brown also has called for projects such as extending the U.S. Route 30 expressway to eastern Columbiana County from Canton to be designated as being "of critical national significance" to increase their chances of being funded.
"It doesn't mean automatically you get it, but it does mean that there's a bigger pot of money that's uniquely suited for projects like that," Brown said.
The senator met with local officials, union leaders and top executives of local businesses and nonprofit groups in the board conference room of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority headquarters.
"The state funding is less. Significantly less than it used to be ... the federal funding hasn't stepped up the way that it should," said Brown, who added that the country once had the best infrastructure in the world that's now rated "D" by a national engineers' group.
No matter his differences with Trump, Brown indicated that he could find common ground with the president on infrastructure funding.
"I think people in both parties like the idea," the senator said. "I know that I do."
Brown said he and four other senators had proposed their own framework for that $1 trillion in funding over 10 years for transit, bridges, highways, water and sewer and housing.
"I want it be real money. Not just tax incentives for private projects like pipelines and electrical grids," said Brown.
He suggested in an interview after the meeting that providing incentives to American corporations to repatriate their profits to the United States and collecting tax revenue from that could fund many of the projects.
The group's discussion was wide-ranging.
Stark County Engineer Keith Bennett said flat gas tax and motor vehicle registration fee revenue has not kept up with the prices of asphalt rising 60 percent over seven years, prompting him to cut 25 positions by attrition.
Stark County Treasurer Alex Zumbar talked about the county's land bank and its progress in demolishing dilapidated homes. Herman Hill, the executive director of the Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority, discussed his agency's need for more federal funding, as it does not have sufficient public housing to address the needs of about 2,500 families on a waiting list and many of its 2,546 units are in disrepair.
Richard McQueen, the CEO of the Akron-Canton Airport, talked about the airport's need for federal funding for the maintenance of its runways amid slumping revenue as the big airlines invest more in mega-hub airports in Chicago, New York and Atlanta.
Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula, as he has for years, made his pitch for extending the Route 30 expressway by 36 miles to Route 11. As a veteran of the trucking business, Regula, a Republican said he would support a slight increase in the federal fuel tax as long as the money funds infrastructure improvements.
But Brown said too many Republicans have made a "Grover Norquist" pledge to not increase taxes so there's insufficient support for a fuel tax hike.
"We got to have revenue in this. We can't just do it all with smoke and mirrors and tax cuts," said Brown, whose spokeswoman later clarified that the senator does not support increasing the federal gas tax.
Massillon Mayor Kathy Catazaro-Perry said her city with its current resources can only put a "dent" in addressing its infrastructure needs, estimating it would cost $21 million to completely address Massillon's roads.
Jim Porter, publisher of The Canton Repository and The Independent, told Brown that struggles in the local retail sector, including increased competition from online retailers like Amazon.com, adversely has affected advertising revenue for newspapers and other area businesses.
Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @rwangREP