West Virginia lawmakers approved the transfer of $150 million to support road maintenance work all over the state.
The approval took place during a brief special session today at the state Capitol. The session coincided with legislative interim meetings.
Lawmakers also approved allocations of federal relief to the Department of Education and to the Department of Health and Human Resources. Legislators expect to return to special session, possibly in September, to allocate more of the state’s federal relief and to work on redistricting.
The additional highways money, which is being transferred from the state’s general revenue fund, received broad approval in both the Senate and House of Delegates.
Senators passed the bill 29-0 with five absences. Delegates passed it 91-5 with four absences.
Transportation Secretary Byrd White earlier told lawmakers the money would go toward 400 projects spread over all 55 counties. As examples, he described select bridge projects, repairing slips on bus routes or fixing slides on business routes. State leaders have described 742 total miles of paving.
Speaking today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said he supports the allocation “100 percent.”
“I think for two generations now we’ve gone with neglected maintenance and deferred maintenance on our roads and highways,” said Hanshaw, R-Clay.
“Any time we’re in a position to devote resources to shoring up and preserving and solidifying and even expanding infrastructure in West Virginia, we ought to do that.”
House Speaker @SpeakerHanshaw talks with @HoppyKercheval about the special session. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/bxXYKnXCGR
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) June 7, 2021
Gov. Jim Justice proposed putting more money toward highways as it becomes more clear that state government will close the fiscal year with more money than anticipated.
The governor anticipates the state budget being $400 million ahead of yearly estimates by the conclusion of the fiscal year. The allocation of some of that money for highways maintenance will now cut into that by $150 million.
There was really no debate about the priority in the Senate.
Delegates debated the idea for a while, with Delegate Marty Gearheart saying he supports investment in roads but also wants to be careful with government spending.
“I really do believe we need to improve our roads here, but it is somewhat odd that the money we have available is exactly the amount that highways has decided they need,” said Gearheart, R-Mercer.
“I think we need to continue to improve the roads, and I think we need to do it thoughtfully as opposed to ‘Man we’ve got some money; let’s go spend it on roads.’”
Other delegates like Democrat Lisa Zukoff of Marshall County said they support whatever can be done to improve West Virginia’s roads. Zukoff, like some other delegates, just wished there was more for her district.
“It’s critical for the folks who live in my district and they want the money to fix the roads,” she said.