CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State legislators today passed a bill giving the official go-ahead to sell the road bonds that residents approved in a statewide election earlier this fall.
The bill’s passage took place during a special session called by Gov. Jim Justice. It was mostly a formality, although there was some debate over amendments offered in the House of Delegates.
The “Roads to Prosperity” amendment calls for the road bond sales to roll out over a period of years.
This fiscal year, the principal amount of $800 million in bonds may be sold. Next fiscal year, the principal amount of $400 million in bonds may be sold.
During each of the two fiscal years after that, $200 million a year may be sold.
Any amount not sold in a fiscal year may be carried forward and issued in any subsequent year before July 1, 2021.
The Senate passed the legislation quickly and without much debate.
In the House, however, debate over two proposed amendments preceded passage.
An amendment offered by Delegate Scott Brewer, D-Mason, would have required construction projects using road bonds to be subject to the same wage and fringe benefit rates as required for projects using federal matching funds for highway and bridge construction projects.
“It’s all about making a decent wage,” Brewer said. “We shouldn’t use people’s livelihood as a way to compete.”
House Speaker Tim Armstead ruled that Brewer’s amendment wasn’t germane to the purpose of the bill.
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and others — including fellow Monongalia County Delegate Cindy Frich, a Republican — proposed an amendment meant to specify those who are hired to prepare the bonds for sale gain their positions through competitive bid.
Fleischauer acknowledged that state law already calls for competitive bid for those hired for bond sales, but she said it might as well be spelled out.
“I think the public would appreciate the transparency,” Fleischauer said.
Those who rose to speak in support included delegates Mike Folk, R-Berkeley, Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha and Charlotte Lane, R-Kanawha.
“Why not put it in this bill. If this is what is already happening, why don’t we say it in black and white so people can understand what is going on so there is no room for confusion in the future?” Lane said.
House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, rose and spoke against the amendment. He said positions such as financial advisor and bond counsel are competitively bid already.
“It is open,” Nelson said.
He said time is of the essence on the bond sale because of the possibility that interest rates will rise.
“What’s the negative effect? Time delay,” Nelson said.
Delegate Ron Walters also spoke against the amendment, saying state law already covers what Fleischauer wanted to do.
“We should follow the law the way it’s written and follow the code that’s been in place as long as I’ve been here,” Walters said.
The amendment was rejected.