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$800M in West Virginia road bonds to be sold this fiscal year

By TAYLOR STUCK

The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill Monday authorizing the sale of bonds for the “Roads to Prosperity” projects and setting a schedule for the sale during the third Special Session.

Senate Bill 3001 gives Gov. Jim Justice the authority to sell up to $1.6 billion in general obligation bonds by 2021. Justice has until July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, to sell up to $800 million in bonds. The bill authorizes the sale of up to $400 million in fiscal year 2018 and up to $200 million in fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

Any amount not sold within the fiscal year will carry over until 2021.

The bill sets up a separate account in the State Road Fund in which all proceeds from the bond sales will go. Issuance costs will be paid from the State Road Fund, as well.

In the Treasury, another separate account, the “Roads to Prosperity Bond Debt Service Fund,” will be set up to hold funds to be used to pay interest on the bonds or to pay off/retire the bond.

The bill also allows the Treasurer to hire a financial advisor for the issuance and sale of the bonds, as well as Justice to select a person or firm as bond counsel.

An amendment was offered in the House of Delegates on Monday afternoon which would have explicitly stated the financial advisor and the bond counsel positions must be competitively bid, but it was voted down.

“I was assured by the governor’s office during the break that competitively bid would happen, and RFP would happen and it would be open to the public, so if that is true, then why not put it in this bill?” said Del. Charlotte Lane, R-Kanawha. “If that is what is going to happen, why don’t we say it in black and white, so people understand what is going on, so there is no room for confusion in the future as to how this should be done? I can’t see that making an amendment to a bill today is going to delay anything It will make it more transparent.”

Del. Barbara Fleishauer, D-Monongalia, the sponsor of the amendment, said the House already leads in transparency and this was one more way to ensure it.

Of those in attendance from the area, only Del. Chad Lovejoy and Matt Rorhbach, both R-Cabell, voted for the amendment. Rorhbach said after he believes there is room for everything to be more transparent.

West Virginia voters approved the sale of the road bonds in October during a special election. The bonds will fund major highway projects, including the expansion of Interstate 64 from Huntington to Charleston.

Legislature-approved raises to the gasoline tax, Division of Motor Vehicles fees and turnpike fees went into effect in July and work began as early as August on smaller projects funded by those additional fees, such as repaving two-lane roads across the state.

The third special session of the Legislature took place when legislators were due at the Capitol for interim committee meetings, which continue Tuesday.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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