BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — A southern West Virginia lawmaker says he’s angry about the proposal to keep tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike past the 2019 bond payoff.
Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said Friday on MetroNews Talkline the idea from the governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways would serve as nothing more than a tax increase on residents of southern counties who have to use the Turnpike.
“We are raising taxes by a billion dollars plus interest,” Gearheart said.
The Blue Ribbon panel will vote Sept. 19 whether to include the toll-bond proposal as part of its final recommendations to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. The proposal is the biggest revenue option discussed by the group.
“It couldn’t angry me any more the conclusions they’ve come to or the manner in which they’ve come to sell those conclusions,” Del. Gearheart said.
The proposal would keep the Turnpike tolls on beyond the 2019 payoff of current bonds and use the money to finance a construction bond up to $1 billion to use on highway projects across the state.
Monongalia County state Senator Bob Beach is a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission and said on MetroNews Talkline he’s still reviewing the plan and how a similar one is working in Ohio. Beach said he would be more likely to support the plan as Senate Transportation Committee chairman if Gov. Tomblin got behind it.
“If this is something the governor wants to move forward with, I think it’s my responsibility to at least bring it to the table for legislative members to discuss for a thumbs up or thumbs down on the issue,” Sen. Beach said.
The Blue Ribbon Commission survey filled out by residents at the panel’s nine public hearings asked about keeping the tolls on the Turnpike and the idea wasn’t totally rejected according to Beach.
“They were not opposed to continuing Turnpike fees if it allowed creation of new infrastructure.”
Beach said other recommendations approved by the Blue Ribbon panel earlier this week are moving the discussion in the right direction. One plan would increase DMV fees by $77 million a year.
Gov. Tomblin said he’ll reserve judgment on the panel’s recommendations until he has a chance to review the final report.