CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House Minority Leader Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha, 40) sees a number of problems with the proposals for future road funding possibilities from the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.
“This plan is bad policy and, I think if the Democrats push it, it’s bad politics,” said Armstead on Tuesday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline.’
Following a year of study, the Commission’s final report will be turned over to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin later this month and it’s expected to include a recommendation to sell more than $1 billion in road bonds to pay for future road construction and maintenance in the Mountain State.
Those bonds would be paid off by keeping tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike for 30 years beyond 2019 when the current bonds are paid.
The Commission has also proposed increases to fees through the Division of Motor Vehicles to generate more than $77 million a year.
Armstead said it’s too much. “The people of West Virginia are not going to be able to absorb all of these new fees and increases in taxes. They’re just not going to be able to do it and there’s going to an outcry, as a result of it, if they try to move forward with it,” said Armstead.
The main problem is the cost of building and fixing roads has continued to rise at a time when fuel efficiency for vehicles has improved, reducing the amount of money flowing into the Road Fund through the gas tax.
To adequately maintain the roads West Virginia has and build the roads West Virginia needs in the coming years, consultants have estimated the state will need to double the $1.2 billion that is going into the Road Fund for road construction and maintenance every year.
Armstead said the state’s residents are currently paying the state a lot of money that could be used for roads. “They need us, as a Legislature and the Governor, to set these priorities and spend the money that they are already providing to the government in a more efficient way,” he said.
“What we really need to look at is setting roads as a priority within our budget, whether that means looking at funding them (roads) through general revenue and putting all these funds into the mix and then deciding what our priorities are.”
Earlier this year, the House passed a bill that would require the Turnpike tolls to be removed when the bonds are paid in six years. The Senate did not address that proposal.
West Virginia has the sixth largest state road system in the entire United States.