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OH Gov Kasich Using Taxpayer Money to Pay Biased Firm to Sway Taxpayer Opinion of Turnpike Privatization

As avid readers of this blog know, Ohio is looking to privatize its turnpike system despite the complete disaster its neighbor state Indiana went through following similar action in 2006.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, meanwhile, has already spent $3.4 million of the state’s money for the Texas-based firm KPMG to explore how a deal would affect Ohio and will wait until its completion before moving forward. The catch is, however, that the man leading the study, Tim Wilschetz, was a major player and adviser to the “private consortia” that leased the Indiana Turnpike which is now set to default on its loan payments. Via Plunderbund:

As we wait for the results of Kasich’s $3.4 million study of the Ohio Turnpike to be revealed, it’s worth noting that the SAME guy, Tim Wilschetz, toll road troubadour and public/private partnership panderer extraordinaire, is leading the study for KPMG on Ohio’s turnpike.

If Wilschetz’s past is any indicator, we can expect a very similar, and similarly disastrous, plan in our state.

Moreover, the “independence” of this hire is being called into question:

Yesterday we confirmed a top ODOT manager believed the consultants were hired specifically to help support Kasich’s plans to lease the turnpike. Additional documents obtained by Plunderbund tell a similar story, with Kasich not only hiring transportation and financing experts, but also a top PR and marketing company as part of the consulting team. The firm, Fahlgren Mortine, developed a communication plan back in May designed to sell the turnpike study and its results to Ohioans. The plan not only focused on developing messaging for the Kasich administration around leasing/bonding the turnpike but also on helping to shut down opposition to the turnpike study and Kasich’s proposal.

According to the original contract with the state, Fahlgren was allocated 5% of the project’s funding. At the revised cost of $3.4 Million dollars, the firm may have been paid up to $170,000 – of your money – to help manipulate you into liking Kasich’s turnpike proposal.

Even if studies were being done in earnest, a losing formula wouldn’t be reason enough to stop Kasich and Co. since an utter turnpike bungling presents an opportunity to fire hundreds of Teamsters. This according to a leaked email between Spencer Wood, CIO of the Ohio Department of Transportation, and a consultant:

Ohio passed legislation that gave the State DOT legal authority to take over the Turnpike (which is currently a separate entity) or to lease it out to someone. This will essentially be similar to a hostile takeover as the teamsters now currently control the turnpike and will likely be laid off and replaced by State union or private employees. … The RFP for leasing will be ready to go by the end of ’11 or at the latest by March ’12. They are using an independent consultant to value the tpke and help them ready it for leasing.

A red flag for privatization detractors should be Kasich’s recent rebranding of the turnpike move as a “jobs program.” These days, this laughable assertion is about as believable as Vanessa Huxtable telling Bill Cosby she “has a friend” who needs some boyfriend advice.

Republicans in Northern Ohio are having trouble falling in line with party leadership as it is likely to bring a strong backlash from their constituents. According to Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont),

“It’s pretty clear that unless they make it a free highway for us, I don’t want to pay tolls for the rest of my lifetime as an extra tax for transportation projects across Ohio.”


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