CHARLESTON, W.Va. – After months of work, members of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways are expected to finalize their recommendations for ways to pay for West Virginia’s future road needs coming up next week.
The commission will meet on September 4 to sign off on the report that will then be submitted to the governor.
The commission recently wrapped up a series of public hearings.
Commission Chairman Jason Pizatella said the Blue Ribbon panel noticed most residents accepted the commission’s three-pronged approach for the future of highway funding.
“Not only finding revenue, which is one, but also trying to find ways for DOH to be more efficient and also trying to find ways to think outside the box and do road construction and maintenance a little more innovatively than we’ve done in the past,” Pizatella said.
The most unpopular idea discussed at the public hearings was simply raising the gasoline tax to pay for new highways.
“That probably should not come as a surprise,” Pizatella said. “We’re trying to think outside the box and we’re trying to be active listeners to try and find ways that we have not thought of before.”
West Virginia and other states are in trouble with highway construction money because federal funds have dried up and traditional funding methods, like gasoline taxes, have decreased or been stagnant at best for a number of reasons.
Gov. Tomblin recently told MetroNews he foresees a proposal that would have all state residents sharing the load.
“We don’t want to put a burden on one segment or the other but at the same time we all depend on them (highways) whether we drive or not,” Tomblin said. “We go to the grocery stores, groceries are hauled in and out, they are on the highways. It’s the responsibility of every person to pay their fair share of it.”
He said there is a price to pay for roads. “Nobody likes to pay taxes but we all like to drive on good roads. The harsh reality is we have to pay for it,” Tomblin said.
Pizatella anticipates the Blue Ribbon panel’s final report will make varied funding proposals. “We are looking very actively for ways to find revenue without having to raise taxes, without having to raise fees,” he said. “I think it’s clear to everyone this is a 50-year-old problem and it’s not something we can tax or fee our way out of.”
There was initially discussion about the possibility of addressing highway funding needs in a special legislative session later this year but that seems to be growing more unlikely.
“I’ll consider that, but it’s getting close enough now to the regular session that we may have discussions in interims for the next few months and take it into the regular session,” Tomblin said.
The Blue Ribbon Commission held nine public hearings.