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Bill increasing gas tax, DMV fees begins to move in Senate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state’s gasoline tax would go up 4.5 cents a gallon and the annual DMV vehicle registration fee would cost $20 more in a bill that passed the state Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Tuesday.

The bill (SB 477), which was originally introduced on behalf of Gov. Jim Justice, was changed by the committee. The governor proposed a 10-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax while the new bill cuts that by more than half at 4.5 cents. The changed bill keeps the DMV vehicle registration change from the current $30 to $50. It also increases a number of other DMV fees. The legislation also says the fees could be increased every five years according to a federal pricing index.

The current gasoline tax is 20.5 cents per gallon. The bill increases that to 25-cents a gallon. The bill also restores the wholesale gasoline tax to the level it was three years ago. The increases in the taxes and fees would bring the highway system approximately $130 million a year in new money.

Contractors Association of West Virginia Executive Director Mike Clowser told the committee some of the fees haven’t been updated since the 1970’s and he believes West Virginians can afford it.

“It totals about $90 a year. That is less than 25-cents a day in what it costs the average West Virginian,” Clowser said.

GoMart lobbyist Louis Southworth urged the committee not to pass the bill because of concerns about the impact on border county convenience stores.

“Virginia’s (gasoline tax) is going to be 20-cents less than West Virginia, Ohio 8-cents less, Kentucky 10-cents less and Maryland 3-cents less. Only Pennsylvania would be more,” Southworth said.

Senator Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson) told the committee she often travels across state lines now to purchase her gasoline.

“I can drive literally 2.5 miles to the nearest gas station in Virginia and save myself about 35-cents per gallon and yes, I will do that every chance I get,” Rucker said. “It’s only going to chase more people out of our state and into other neighboring states.”

But Senator Ed Gaunch (R-Kanawha) said reaction to fix the state’s road problems is long overdue.

“Who wants to do business here if they can’t run their trucks over our bridges. To me, this is a no brainer,” he said.

Lawmakers passed a DMV fee increase bill in 2011 only to have it vetoed by then Acting-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin who cited the state’s high unemployment rate.

According to Gaunch, the $130 million in new revenue would only be a band-aid to the current road problems but “it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

The bill passed the committee on a voice vote. It now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

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