July 22, 2018
By Paul Giannamore
STEUBENVILLE — At the end of his question-and-answer session Friday with the Eastern Ohio Development Alliance quarterly meeting at Historic Fort Steuben, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, was asked for his views about medical marijuana.
Mayor Jerry Barilla asked Johnson for his views because the mayor said people have been making comments about Steubenville not trying to attract a medical marijuana business to the city. Neighboring Wintersville will be home to two dispensaries.
Johnson said, “You may not like my answer. I was raised in the ’50s and lived through the ’60s and I don’t like the idea. I just don’t like the idea. I think it is opening a door in our culture that is going to be awfully difficult for us to walk back through. I understand it is the law, but I do not blame any community that is concerned about it coming into their community. But, that said, it is a state and not a federal issue. Under federal law, it is still illegal.”
He said he has seen the destruction caused by drugs and then asked, “How many of you want to fly through Denver International Airport? You think the people working at Denver, that that’s not going on? I don’t want people working on the planes I fly on that might be under the influence.”
On the economic development front, Johnson thinks the PTT Global ethane cracker project planned for Belmont County will be built, though he noted the company hasn’t made a formal announcement and anything still can happen.
Johnson made his remarks to the Eastern Ohio Development Alliance, which held its quarterly meeting Friday with about 50 attending at Historic Fort Steuben.
He was speaking about “connecting the dots” for economic development projects to assist where the federal government can. A $16 million rail upgrade grant has been approved for the Norfolk Southern line from Belmont, through Jefferson and into Columbiana County to serve the potential needs for shipping construction materials into the cracker site and for shipping product from the cracker when it opens.
He noted the project continues to be billed as the largest construction project in Ohio history, with 10,000 construction workers on the $6 billion project that is anticipated to take six years to build.
“That company was looking to see if we could get that grant across the finish line,”he said. “That grant is a big indicator that Ohio and the U.S. are buying into this effort.”
Johnson said he had been dealing with the company for years and explained that the firm is partially owned by the government of Thailand. He said he has been involved with meetings with President Trump, Vice President Pence, the Thai prime minister, company officials, officials of JobsOhio and more, including a meeting at the White House.
“The bottom line is they are moving along and every indication is positive. They have purchased the land, they have closed on the land,” Johnson said. “I will not tell you it is a done deal because that would not be accurate. They have not made a public announcement but every indicator is moving in the right direction.”
He said the railway improvement grant was part of the $22 billion for infrastructure in the omnibus spending bill in March. He said he thinks the president’s formula of a mix of federal, state and local matches along with public-private partnerships will bring the nation’s infrastructure into better condition.
He emphasized that infrastructure includes broadband Internet access, which lacks in rural areas. He is backing the Mapping Now Act, which gives the assistant secretary for Internet technology funding in the Commerce Department to require the development of accurate Internet service maps. He said the FCC relies on inaccurate Census Bureau maps.
Internet providers don’t build in sparsely populated areas because there aren’t enough customers to match the expense of building the networks and Johnson said the providers still have to have the ability to get their return on investment.
He said rural America is “losing a lot of intellectual capital and businesses won’t come in without access to high-speed Internet with which they can manage their supplies and their customers and the training and education of employees.”
He said tax reform made in December is working, with an average drop in taxes of $2,059 for the typical family of four. He said 95 percent of tax filers in his 6th District used the standard deduction, indicating filing has become easier. He recited a number of economic statistics, including growth running at about 4 percent or greater during the third quarter, rising wages, rising disposable income and job creation.
He said in the 16 counties of the Eastern Ohio Development Alliance, there has been a 30 percent drop in unemployment through the end of May for the year.