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House votes Friday on constitutional amendment resolution for road money

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Senate resolution, scheduled for a Friday vote in the state House of Delegates, may be the vehicle for keeping the possibility of additional road funding an option with the end of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session coming Saturday.

On Thursday, the Roads To Prosperity Amendment of 2017, SJR 6, advanced to 3rd reading in the House.

As written, it’s a proposal for an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution, one residents would vote on, authorizing the Legislature to issue and sell state bonds not exceeding $1.6 billion total to be used for road work “to provide for the improvement and construction of safe roads in the state.”

If approved, we’d see a Special Election on the proposed amendment before the end of 2017.

The Senate approved the resolution in March.

In the House, it now includes the following:

“When a bond issue as aforesaid is authorized, the Legislature shall at the same time provide for the collection of an annual state tax sufficient to pay as it may accrue the interest on such bonds and the principal thereof within and not exceeding 25 years. Any interest that accrues on the issued bonds prior to payment shall only be used for the purposes of the bonds.”

That addresses potential bond funding, according to Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia.

If or when there is a vote on such an amendment, “We are basically letting the voters decide if they want to vote themselves a tax increase,” Clowser explained.

Earlier this week, two of Governor Jim Justice’s key road bills died when they were not taken up in the House Finance Committee.

SB 477 would have raised DMV fees, increasing vehicle registration costs from $30 to $50 for example, and added 4.5 cents to the state tax on gasoline to generate more money for the State Road Fund. Currently, the state gas tax is 20.5 cents.

The Senate approved SB 477 with a 27-6 vote on March 25.

SB 482 dealing with the West Virginia Parkways Authority would have extended tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike and raised those tolls by $1 to fund road projects in other parts of West Virginia.

The Senate approved SB 482 with a 26-8 on March 29.

Both were not put on the House Finance agenda.

“I think people want their roads fixed. I think people want jobs. I think people want economic development. We think these bills provided all of that,” Clowser said.

“For it to go this far and to get to this point and to have them taken off the agenda, (it’s) very, very disheartening to deal with.”

Senator Bob Plymale (D-Wayne, 05) said many West Virginia residents had sought the kind of immediate road help Governor Jim Justice proposed at the session’s start in February.

“People are crying to me, ‘Fix our roads, please. Get the potholes out,'” Plymale said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.” “Look at what we’re doing to pay for those on the other end for car repairs and things like that.”

Originally, Justice indicated his proposed new revenue streams could have been leveraged into bonds amounting to at least $1.4 billion for roads.

Clowser said road issues cannot wait.

“If it’s not addressed next year, it doesn’t make any difference what happens that following year because our roads and jobs are going to be pretty much gone.”

One Justice proposal was supported in both the Senate and House.

Among the completed bills is HB 2878, the Garvee bond bill, raising the amount of Federal Grant Anticipation Notes the Division of Highways can apply for from $200 million to $500 million.

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