CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Just like a bedtime dream, Randy’s Dream, the bill to boost secondary road repairs, morphed throughout the session.
Its final form is a bit wispy, because it mandates no money for the cause, but Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, is pleased with what was accomplished.
“I’ve worked hard on it for two months, so it’s kind of nice to see it somewhat come true on the last day. … It makes me feel like I’ve made a difference.”
The core of SB 522 is a new Special Road Repair Fund intended to be used for secondary road maintenance – for roads not eligible for federal funding, which is the vast majority. This is called the Enhanced Road Maintenance Program.
The first version of the fund drew on $200 million from the Rainy Day Fund and two-fifths of state severance tax collections. Senate Finance changed that to two $110,000 million appropriations from general revenue for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021.
The House changed it again, keeping the Special Road Repair Fund but stripping out any money.
On Saturday, the last day of the session, the bill went to conference committee. Smith was one of the conferees. That committee gave the Division of Highways the authority to place up to $80 million each year into the fund.
The legislature completed action on the bill at around 11 p.m. and sent it to the governor for consideration.
The language is permissive, not mandatory as Smith said he would have preferred. It will come from what’s called “paygo” money – funds derived from increased taxes and DMV fees dedicated to debt service for the Roads to Prosperity bonds that are not yet needed for debt payments.
“I wanted a little more than $80 million, but it’s going to be over $1 million for each county, so that’s going to help out a lot,” Smith said. The intent is to send each county $1 million, with any remainder sent to the counties with the worst problems.
Gov. Jim Justice may allocate more when he holds his Wednesday press conference, Smith said, and that was his intent: He hoped this bill would prompt the governor to one-up him.
“It has a lot of accountability and mandates where they have to do core maintenance; and that’s as important in the bill as the funding, honestly.”
The bill requires the districts to do 70 percent of their required maintenance each year or contract the work out. And it packages in HB 2012, the country roads accountability and transparency bill. It directs the state auditor to supply on its wvcheckbook.gov state spending transparency website financial information about DOH contracted projects in all 55 counties.
“So it’s a big step compared to what it’s been,” he said. “I’m pretty excited that we were able to get something done. I’d have liked to have more funding, but the accountability in it is huge.”
And Smith doesn’t intend to give up. “’ll be back next, because, you know, we’re still going to have road problems next year, unless the governor pulls a rabbit out of his hat.”