6:00: Morning News

Justice administration faces tough sell on road bond

The Justice administration is trying to get some traction on the $1.6 billion road bond issue.  The Governor has staked his pledge to grow the state’s economy on passage of the bond, which he says will create 40,000 jobs.

But this is not an easy sales job for a variety of reasons.

Justice’s Roads to Prosperity highway program is a little complicated and the bond is just part of it.  A list posted by the state DOT includes “authorized and candidate” projects broken down into several different financing options.

For example, the $600,000 to improve Stalnaker Road in Barbour County will come from existing highway tax collections, while the $2 million for replacement of the Smithers Creek Bridge in Fayette County is to come from West Virginia Turnpike bonds paid for with tolls.  The $1.6 billion road bond has to pass to raise the $16 million to rebuild interchange 99 along I-79 in Lewis County.

Dozens of projects are listed with different funding mechanisms. You can look at the full list here.

The road bond will pay for the bigger projects that are higher on the priority list.  However as state Transportation Secretary Tom Smith explained on Talkline Tuesday, if the bond fails some of the other funding will have to be re-prioritized.

“If you are not able to fund some of those big projects from the bond proceeds then you are going to have to use your regular funding and fund the big projects that way and that will actually take away the resources that could have flowed to the other counties,” Smith said.

Funds raised from just the road bond will pay for 40 projects in 22 counties, and that list is available here.  Smith believes it’s important to view these projects regionally rather than county-by-county because they are high traffic areas that have a larger impact.

Let’s say Justice, Smith and the rest of the bond supporters can get over the complexity hump and reasonably establish the value of fixing roads and bridges across the state.  The next part of sales is overcoming objections.

I hear these questions every day on Talkline.  Some are easier to answer than others.

For example, will your taxes go up to pay for the bonds?  The answer is no, but there is a caveat.  The Governor and the legislature earlier this year approved increases in the wholesale tax on gasoline, the sales tax on vehicles and DMV fees to raise money to pay bond debt.

Passing the bond won’t raise your taxes… because they have already been raised.  If the bond fails, the $130 million generated from the new taxes will be used for pay-as-you-go road work.

Another objection I hear, in one form or another, goes like this: “I don’t trust the government.” These folks believe government and the highways department waste money, that the politically connected will get their roads paved, that the state should spend the money it has rather than borrowing more and that more taxes will go up to pay for the bond.

That’s a tough one because it’s an issue of trust. If someone does not have enough faith in state government to carry out one of its primary functions of building and maintaining an infrastructure, then there’s not much anyone can say or do between now and the October 7 election to change their mind.

West Virginia badly needs to #FTDR (Fix the Damn Roads), and using highway user taxes and fees to finance borrowing to make substantial improvements makes sense.  However, the Justice administration and groups that support the bond have a responsibility to make the compelling case to voters.

A professional sales effort involves articulating the value of the good or service and answering questions and concerns from the buyer, in this case the voters.  Secretary Smith promises that he or someone from highways will come to any civic group or citizens meeting to do just that.

Smith says all you have to do is call his office at 304-558-0444.  Let’s take him up on that.




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