First approved by voters in 2000, the Clean Ohio Fund is a $400 million state bond initiative that restores, protects and connects Ohio’s natural and urban places by preserving open space and farmland, improving outdoor recreation and attracting investment and economic development. The program, which does not expire, is maintained through the reissuance of bonds, which require $2.3 million in annual debt services for each $25 million in bonds. The program does not raise taxes for Ohioans.
The creation of the fund was largely driven by the Ohio League of Conservation Voters (OLCV), who urged gubernatorial candidates to put a “Clean Ohio” bond initiative on their platforms. Then-candidate Bob Taft (R) agreed and, once elected as governor, asked OLCV to write the blueprint for the bond. For two four-year periods, it was divided among four funds as follows:
- Clean Ohio Trails Fund (COTF) – $25 million
- Clean Ohio Conservation Fund – $200 million
- Farmland Preservation – $25 million
- Brownfield Revitalization – $150 million
The program was renewed in 2008 with overwhelming support from all 88 counties in Ohio, driven by bipartisan executive and legislative backing. The current fund has maintained all of the programs except for the brownfield remediation projects. In the most recent state capital budget bill for Ohio (SB 310, 2016), the Clean Ohio Fund was allocated $100 million in funding broken up as follows:
- COTF - $12.5 million
- Clean Ohio Conservation Fund - $12.5 million
- Agricultural Easement - $75 million
Every county in Ohio has benefited from the Clean Ohio Fund since its inception. More specifically, the bond initiative has helped to: clean up nearly 400 abandoned and polluted sites; preserve more than 75,000 acres of natural areas; protect more than 49,000 acres of family farms; create more than 500 miles of multipurpose recreational trails; and leverage additional investments to create a total economic impact of approximately $3.1 billion in public and private investments to date.
Many diverse organizations came together to garner support for this initiative. An initial focus on land conservation evolved into what became a strategic alliance between four key constituencies—farmland preservation, green space conservation, brownfield cleanup and recreational trails—paving the way for passage. The support of Gov. Taft was another critical success factor. The success of the Clean Ohio Fund demonstrates the importance of grassroots leadership and strategic planning to the passage of legislation pertaining to active transportation.