CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Education will be the focus for supporters of the proposed West Virginia Roads to Prosperity Constitutional Amendment leading up to the Oct. 7 election, according to Mike Hall, new chief of staff to Governor Jim Justice.
On the ballot is the issuance of $1.6 billion in state bonds to build and upgrade the Mountain State’s roads and bridges.
“We need to do this for the state of West Virginia,” Hall said of the potential for passage on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
A day earlier, he was part of a stakeholders meeting at the State Capitol which followed the state Republican Executive Committee’s nearly unanimous Saturday vote for a resolution in opposition to the proposal.
Others in the Wednesday meeting reportedly included Governor Jim Justice, Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04), Chris Hamilton, chair of the West Virginia Business and Industry Council, Bray Carey, a media executive, and others.
Brad McElhinny, MetroNews statewide correspondent, previously reported Conrad Lucas, state Republican Party chair, believed he was at the State Capitol to meet with Governor Justice individually, but was instead met with a full contingent of bond backers.
Election Day is six weeks from Saturday.
“There are many people, at many points of light around the state, that we’re organizing to get ready to get that message out,” Hall said of efforts to ramp up a pro-bond movement with the Special Election in sight.
Delegate Gary Howell (R-Mineral, 56), chair of the House Government Organization Committee, said he won’t back the bond proposal without a direct pledge from Governor Justice that existing revenues only would be utilized for future bond payments.
“Like everybody else, I want better roads in the state. I want better access. The roads that we build, if the bond passes, is a good idea, but they have to be paid with existing revenue,” Howell said.
As proposed, funding for the bonds would come from tax and fee increases the Legislature approved earlier this year. Those hikes to DMV fees and vehicle purchase sales taxes along with a recalculation of the wholesale tax on gasoline in West Virginia took effect in July.
The additional money generated is already funding road projects.
“If the bonds pass, there’s nothing saying that those taxes that we already increased have to go to those bonds,” argued Howell, who’d wanted the DMV fee and other increases linked to bond passage.
Without that connection, “The Governor could come before the Legislature and say, ‘Hey, the people passed the road bond and now I need another $150 million in taxes to pay for the debt service.'”
Hall said that won’t be the case.
“The message is that there’s no new taxes here, but what we get is an opportunity is to advance our state economically by putting these roads in place and also freeing up money, if you think about it,” said Hall.
“A lot of this money will go for new construction, but that frees up money for things that needed to be done — bridges, slips, this and that — that people call all the time about.”
The state Department of Transportation recently released an updated list of priority projects in West Virginia with designations for potential road bond projects. See the list HERE.
Back on Monday, Hall took over as Governor Justice’s chief of staff. He replaces former Chief of Staff Nick Casey whose firing followed a political party change for Justice from Democrat to Republican.
“There’s a lot that goes through this office,” Hall said of his new job. “This desk was full of things and it continues to pile up every day.”
As of Thursday, Hall announced no new departures within the Justice Administration, but he could no rule out future resignations from those tapped to serve when Justice was a Democrat.
Early voting ahead of the Oct. 7 road bond election begins on Sept. 22 and runs through Oct. 4. The deadline to register to vote is Sept. 18.