Politics

Portman Tours Smart2, Says Shutdown to End ‘Soon’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman says he expects the shutdown of parts of the federal government to end in the next few days, with President Trump likely to take action on his own to move forward on construction of the barrier he wants at the southern border.

Portman visited Youngstown for about an hour Friday afternoon to tour the route for an autonomous shuttle that will operate as part of the Smart2 Network project.Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – or Smart2 – Network project.

Parts of the government have been closed  since midnight Jan. 20 as the president and congressional Democrats clashover Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a wall.

“One reason we need to reopen the government is to make sure the checks get cut. The [local] match is great, but you want to have the federal match, too,” Portman joked at a brief news conference before the bus tour.

But Portman, R-Ohio, and Jim Kinnick, executive of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, say the shutdown, which has affected several federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Transportation, should not impede implementation of a downtown roadway improvement project that was awarded a $10.8 million federal grant last month.

Consultants can be hired using $375,000 that was added to the local match after the application was submitted for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – or Build — grants program, Kinnick said.

“When we need the real money is construction, which we think would be the end of the year,” he explained. “So we have enough money to move forward. We won’t lose a beat here.”

Portman, who is working with his colleagues to find a compromise that would reopen the government, predicted that the shutdown would end soon.

“I’m told that it could happen relatively quickly now, probably with the president evoking some sort of national security with regard to the border, maybe within a couple of days,” he says.

Accompanying Portman on the bus tour were Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and other city officials, along with representatives of Smart2 partners and downtown stakeholders, including Youngstown State University, Western Reserve Transit Authority, Mercy Health – Youngstown and Youngstown CityScape.

The project would involve implementing a “complete streets concept” that would include underground utilities, pedestrian lighting, wide sidewalks and narrow streets, said Mike Hripko, YSU associate vice president for external affairs, government relations and economic development.

One of the downtown streets would be Federal, which runs past anchor institutions such as America Makes and the Youngstown Business Incubator, Hripko said. Both attract large numbers of out-of-town guests and entrepreneurs seeking a place to start a business.

“If we could dress up this street, make it attractive, make the transit easier between our anchor institutions, we present a better opportunity,” Hripko said. The improvements to Fifth Avenue and the autonomous shuttle also would improve safety for YSU students getting to campus and access for students and patients going to Mercy Health’s St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.

The local partners have seven years to complete the project, according to the terms of the grant, and are planning a three-year window, with the first two phases of work beginning later this year. The third phase would improve Rayen Avenue and provide access to the Joseph Company’s research and manufacturing complex on the East Side, and begin in 2021, Kinnick said.

“It’s going to be awesome bringing everything together,” Portman said after the tour.

Portman and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, introduced legislation Friday that would establish a $25 billion trust fund for border security enhancements and codify protections for individuals who illegally immigrated to the United States as children.

Although he has gotten “pretty good response” from colleagues, Portman said he does not know if it has the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has withheld from the Senate floor legislation that Trump doesn’t support.

Portman and Senate colleagues also introduced legislation Friday to permanently end government shutdowns by creating an automatic continuing resolution for appropriation bills or existing continuing resolutions.

Congress is “perhaps” approaching the point at which it needs to approve legislation by sufficient margin to override a presidential veto, the senator acknowledged, but the more likely scenario he envisioned is Trump taking action to go around Congress for the border money either by a national emergency declaration or going through the Defense Department.

“At that point he would reopen the government. That’s my hope and my expectation,” he said.

Pictured at top: U.S. Sen. Rob Portman takes a bus tour of the Smart2 autonomous shuttle site. Behind him is Jim Kinnick, executive of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.