MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — An economics professor emeritus at West Virginia University says additional taxes and fees will have to be part of any plan to pay for West Virginia’s long-term road construction and maintenance needs. “Unfortunately, it’s going to take money,” said Dr. Tom Witt on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
West Virginians are already paying 54 cents per gallon in state and federal taxes every time they fill up at a gas station. The federal excise tax accounts for 18 cents of that total while the rest goes to the state, but Witt said it is not enough to adequately sustain the Road Fund.
Witt sees a “crisis in financing,” not only for roads in West Virginia, but those across the United States largely because people are driving more fuel efficient vehicles, as the federal government mandates, these days.
Additionally, “There’s demographic changes in West Virginia that are lowering the average number of miles driven annually. Nationally, we know the vehicle miles traveled per motorist is down about ten percent. We have these alternative-fueled vehicles that don’t contribute motor fuel excise taxes,” and Witt said that trend was expected to continue.
In 2001, he said drivers were paying a lower gas tax, but were driving vehicles that averaged about ten mpg. If a driver traveled 12,500 miles in a year, their total highway taxes in West Virginia, according to Witt, would add up to about $320. Thirteen years later, Witt said, with vehicles that average 25 mpg, the total gas taxes amount to less than half of that.
Witt is a member of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways which has recommended a number of ways to generate needed road money including raising fees through the state Division of Motor Vehicles, dedicating the consumer sales tax collected on vehicle repairs and auto parts to the Road Fund, continuing tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike to finance road bonds for projects across West Virginia and identifying inefficiencies within the state Department of Transportation.
The Blue Ribbon Commission has not yet submitted a final report to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.
“They’re all good ideas,” said Witt. “And, I think, the purpose of the Commission, once they issue the final report, is to have that dialogue with the voters to see what kind of future highway systems they want to have and how they’re going to be able to pay for it.”
According to the American Petroleum Institute, the tax per gallon of gas is 36 cents in Virginia, 45 cents in Maryland, 60 cents in Pennsylvania, 46 cents in Ohio and 48 cents in Kentucky. Californians pay the highest gas tax, at 71 cents per gallon, followed by New York at 68 cents per gallon.