The road to a new budget runs through Special Session

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Legislature resumes a special at the state Capitol Monday to again try and come to an agreement on a budget for the coming fiscal year that begins on July 1.

The resumption of the special session follows continued negotiations between Governor Jim Justice and legislative leaders this week. The goal is a budget agreement for fiscal 2018, but there are many different components, including a couple of roads bills.

Justice has made a priority of increased funding for roads and bridges projects, touting the potential for construction jobs and economic growth.

According to TRIP, a private, nonprofit organization that researches, evaluates and distributes economic data on transportation, 17 percent of West Virginia’s bridges are structurally deficient and traffic congestion cost drivers $225 million dollars a year in fuel and wasted time.

Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia, sees roads as an issue people on both sides of the aisle can agree on.

“Everyone we speak with has finally come to the realization that we have to fix roads, we have to create jobs,” Clowser said on a recent edition of “580-LIVE with Charleston Mayor Danny Jones,” heard on WCHS Radio in Charleston, a MetroNews affiliate.

“We cannot let this opportunity pass, I think people realize something must be done. We are hopeful and confident that at the end of the day we will see a bill to start improving our highways.”

Clowser said there are two issues with roads that lawmakers could resolve, possibly as soon as this week.

“Preservation of our existing system and expansion,” Clowser said. “This will allow future economic development, manufacturing, and growth in the state, but you have to have the revenue to pay the debt service.”

Clowser said Governor Justice’s budget plan will get the state the money it needs to fix the roads.

“Raising additional revenue will provide a pay as you go program to do preservation of our existing system, projects like secondary roads and rural bridges,” Clowser said.

“The House and Senate passed the Roads to Prosperity Amendment, which will be on the ballot sometime this fall. If the voters ratify it, it will give the state the authority to issue $1.6 billion dollars in highway bonds which will be used for new construction and expansion.”

There have been many ideas discussed on how to get this increase in revenues to help the roads. Measures still on the table include a higher floor on the wholesale price of gasoline to be taxed, additions to DMV fees and higher tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike.

Justice wants to use the increased revenue as a source to pay down bonds, giving the state increased capacity for its projects.

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