By September 7, 2017 Read More →

Gov. Jim Justice urges support of road bond referendum in Beckley town hall

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice urged residents in a Wednesday evening town hall in Beckley to support the road bond referendum this fall that would create $1.6 billion in funds to upgrade the state’s roads and bridges.

Residents will vote Saturday, Oct. 7, whether to approve the referendum. Early voting for the special election begins Sept. 22 and continues until Oct. 4, excluding Sundays.

Justice hosted the town hall Wednesday evening at the Beckley Raleigh-County Convention Center to explain why he thought residents should vote in favor of the referendum.

Around 50 people came to listen to West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s town hall meeting with an emphasis on the road bond vote coming up in October at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center Wednesday.
(Register-Herald photo by Chris Jackson)

Justice was joined by Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Smith; Stephen Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce; Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association; Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia; and Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association president — all who voiced their support of the referendum.

Hamilton said he felt the referendum would bring prosperity and new jobs to the state. He mentioned the creation of 48,000 jobs, a number Justice has touted that would result from the referendum’s passage.

“I can’t think of a reason to be against this initiative,” Hamilton said. “All the funding has been enacted. There is absolutely zero new fees or new taxes that comes from this bond measure.”

Roberts voiced support for some of the same reasons, saying the state chamber supports the measure.

“By passing this amendment, we will be creating 48,000 jobs for West Virginians who need those jobs,” he said. “It’s a way to jumpstart the economy. We will be fixing roads and making the roadways safer.”

Justice said there are 600 road construction projects throughout the state. Pointing to a map that broke down the project by county, Justice said there are a total of 212 projects in Southern West Virginia totaling about $750 million.

This includes $132.4 million in Raleigh, $46.3 million in Fayette, $177.6 million in Wyoming, $9.3 million in Summers, $10.6 million in Nicholas, $35.7 million in Greenbrier, $9.6 million in Monroe, $11.6 million in Mercer and $32.8 million in McDowell.

There are a few funding mechanisms for the projects. Smith explained the bonds using the analogy of three buckets of revenue. The first, he said is federal aid funds, or the GARVEE bonds. Smith explained the GARVEE bonds are an 80-20 match.

“That takes about $50-$55 million of federal funds and turns into $500 million of bonded funds,” he said.

The second is the turnpike revenue which would go to 10 counties in Southern West Virginia that border the turnpike. He said this would turn about $45-$50 million of turnpike revenue into $500 million for the bonded amount.

The third is the general obligation funds which includes money from the already passed wholesale gasoline tax, motor vehicle privilege tax and an increase to the Division of Motor Vehicle fees, which he said is about $130 million a year.

“There is no tax required to fund the general obligation bonds,” Smith said. “That’s one of the most common misperceptions that we’re hearing. That’s not the case. The taxes are already raised and the dollars are used to do the debt service to pay back those bonds. That turns into about $130 million a year. We are able to use that to get to really big numbers, the $1.6 billion, and that’s how we get to more expensive projects like the Coalfields Expressway, King Coal Highway, or Corridor H. If we don’t have the big bond projects, we can’t get to those expensive projects.”

He said there are about 40 what he called really big projects in the state that would be funded from the general obligation bonds. This includes the turnpike widening project in Beckley, which he said would be about $60 million. This project would widen lanes through Beckley to three lanes each direction on I-64.

“We are excited about that,” he said of the Beckley widening project. “This is a good thing for Southern West Virginia. It has regional significance for all 10 counties but also a lot of counties traveling north to south.”

Justice said he hopes the federal government will come through with the proposed $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

“If the Trump people come through with the aggressive infrastructure program and our bonding here gets done while interest rates are the lowest they can be, and if we have the opportunities to do the matching funds in excess capacity we can parlay that into three to four times the excess levy,” Justice said. “The excess capacity we have in the amount that we have can spin this right back into repairing and fixing existing roads.It’s not just a new roads project.”

Justice referenced visits to West Virginia by the Trump administration in the last few months. He said the Trump administration is looking at the road bond “with elation.”

“I’m talking to the Trump people every other day,” he said. “Why do you think they’ve been here? They’re going to help West Virginia. I don’t know if it’s the coal side or the timber side or natural gas hub or manufacturing hub but they are truly committed to helping West Virginia. We have to be smart enough to help ourselves. They are looking at the road bond stuff with elation.”

According to an article from Metro News, Justice has had opposition from the state Republican Party Executive Committee, which overwhelmingly opposed the road bond package. All but one of the about 100 party leaders at an August meeting voted to reject the bond, Metro News reported.

Justice said he has spoken with Senate President Mitch Carmichael to inquire whether he knew of any Republican senators opposed it.

“He said no,” Justice said. “From the House side, the House is different. You have people who can come up with what I think is a way-out thought on everything. For that, I don’t know how to combat that. I think an overwhelming majority of people are for this. If I had a personal belief that if there was any kind of tax that no matter what kind of tax should never be raised. Let’s say a tax was raised 10 years ago and I didn’t like it so I would say I wouldn’t vote for the roads because of something that happened 10 years ago, that to me is putting personal beliefs before the betterment of West Virginia. I think that’s wrong but I can’t change that.”

Email: alannom@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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