Wednesday, April 17, 2024

State lawmakers remove Cincinnati Southern sale language from transportation bill

This story will be updated.

CINCINNATI (WXIX) – The current working version of Ohio’s transportation bill longer includes a change in state law required for the sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad to Norfolk Southern.

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval says he’s committed to working with legislators to ensure the change happens anyways.

“There has never been a more important time for our city to get out of the rail business. Selling now gives us local control over our assets in an investment trust for generations to come. No longer would our future be tied to the unpredictable and risky rail industry,” Pureval said.

House Bill 23 passed out of the Ohio House of Representatives late last month with the CSR sale language intact.

Cincinnati has always been empowered to sell the CSR railway. The new language changes a 153-year-old Ohio statute to allow the city to use the proceeds from the sale for capital projects (roads, bridges, etc.) Previously, the Ferguson Act of 1869 prevented the city from using sale proceeds for anything but debt service payments.

HB23 is currently with the Senate Transportation Committee. The committee voted on Wednesday to adopt a substitute bill without that sale language.

No single senator proposed to remove the language. Budget bills such as HB23 are worked on in a caucus setting, according to John Fortney with the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus.

Some lawmakers, including Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Colerain), worry about how Cincinnati will use the sale proceeds.

Others, such as Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson), object to the sale in the context of several recent Norfolk Southern incidents: the East Palestine derailment, the Springfield derailment and the crash in Cleveland that resulted in the death of a conductor.

“These are all serious concerns. People want to make sure that what’s rolling down the rails is safe,” Fortney said.

Forney stopped short of explicitly linking Wednesday’s action to the train derailments. “But I will say it hasn’t helped,” he said.

[Debunking misinformation about the Cincinnati Southern Railway sale]

Senators will be able to add amendments to HB23 in the Transportation Committee. They will then vote an omnibus version of the sub-bill out of committee, after which it will go to the full Senate. Senators will be able to offer amendments as well. Fortney expects a Senate vote sometime next week.

HB23, with the Senate changes, will then go back to the House, which will vote either for or against the changes. If the House votes against the changes, the bill will go to a conference committee comprising six members, three from each body (two majority members and one minority member each from the House and Senate). Those members will then decide on each point of disagreement between the two versions.

The entirety of HB23 must be passed by March 31.

There’s a long way to go before the bill heads to the desk of Gov. Mike DeWine, but the situation appears to have changed considerably since Blessing said in February he was the only one against the sale.

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