I hope the road bond passes.
I know there’s a lot of opposition. I’ve heard it and read it every day for the past month from folks who, in many cases, are passionate about preventing the state from borrowing $1.6 billion and paying that back over 25 years with interest.
Some of you are really angry with Governor Jim Justice. After all, he ran for office saying West Virginians are taxed enough and then proposed a huge tax increase. He ran as a Democrat, but then after the election switched to the Republican Party.
He says and does peculiar things that don’t instill confidence, so if enough voters look at the road bond as a referendum on Justice then the bond is going down. But these are not Jim Justice’s roads; they are our roads.
I also get that some folks have little confidence that the much-maligned Division of Highways can efficiently and effectively oversee the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars. But private contractors who follow a bidding process are going to do the work.
There is also the worry that even though the higher taxes and fees are already in place to pay for the bonds that taxes may still have to be increased sometime during the 25-year life of the bonds to help pay off the debt. But the bond market won’t let the state borrow more than the existing taxes and fees can pay for.
Some want a pay-as-you-go approach with the additional $130 million that’s coming in. However, that’s not enough money to tackle the biggest and most pressing projects and still have enough from existing state and federal highway funds to pay for small road and bridge construction and maintenance.
There’s concern that too many of the jobs will go to out-of-state workers. There is no guarantee that every job will be filled by a West Virginian, but representatives of the Contractors Association of West Virginia and the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation are confident there will be plenty of positions for state workers if the bond passes.
So if you’re looking for a reason to oppose the bond, you can find one. But if the opposition prevails it will be a Pyrrhic victory. West Virginia will fall even farther behind on the maintenance of 37,000 miles of roads, hundreds of bridges and badly needed new highways in high-traffic areas.
As always, here’s the beauty of the highway taxes: those who use the roads pay for them. It’s understandable that West Virginia taxpayers often feel like their hard-earned money disappears into a black hole in Charleston. Your income and sales taxes pay for hundreds of different state services and salaries.
But the higher DMV fees (from $30 to $50), gasoline taxes (3 ½ cents) and vehicle privilege tax (from 5% to 6%), which are already in place, will all go toward the roads. These are efficient pay-to-benefit taxes.
State Transportation Secretary Tom Smith is right when he says this is an opportunity for our state. #FTDR. Fix the damn roads.