CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways Wednesday presented what they call a balanced approach to funding West Virginia road construction, one not involving higher taxes.
“It’s one that would allow us to raise the necessary funds to invest in our infrastructure statewide for roads without putting all of it necessarily on the backs of West Virginians,” said Jason Pizatella, chief counsel to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and chairman of the commission.
After nine public hearings around the state and a survey of nearly 1,400 residents, the commission presented their three pronged-approach for the future of highway funding, one which has a centerpiece of allowing the state Parkways Authority to issue $1 billion in road bonds.
Pizatella said the proposal is modeled after a recent $1.5 billion bond issue by the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission and would take advantage of a current bond mechanism on the West Virginia Turnpike to raise future funds.
“That would allow us to raise a certain amount of money and back that debt service with future toll revenue as opposed to higher taxes or higher fees,” said Pizatella.
The plan would keep tolls on the Turnpike for another 30 years and ultimately require Parkways to increase tolls on the Turnpike. However, Pizatella adds that the proposal also comes with a few extra bonuses.
“We built in certain aspects of the proposal that would require a certain percentage of the revenue to be spent in the four counties that the Turnpike travels through and also those that have West Virginia E-ZPass’ and are currently part of the discount program that was put in place in 2009, we’re going to freeze those rates for a number of years,” he said.
The commission also is proposing to raise various Division of Motor Vehicle fees to the tune of 77 million dollars a year. On top of that, the commission proposed dedicating sales tax collections on purchases of auto parts, services or repairs to the state Road Fund, to generate between $20 and $25 million a year.
During Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners adopted most of the recommendations that they will submit to the governor later this month.
However, they delayed voting on the $1 billion Parkways bond proposal until the commission’s September 19 meeting. That will allow themselves time to study the plan in detail.
It will be up to Tomblin to determine which proposals will be presented to the Legislature in January.