By LACIE PIERSON
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice returned to his alma mater Wednesday to push his infrastructure plan for the Mountain State, as a bill that would help finance his plan advanced in the state Senate.
Justice stood in the structures lab of the Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex on Marshall University’s campus and promoted his Save Our State plan to Marshall students, employees and supporters as part of an ongoing tour to gain traction for the plan, which includes his proposals to balance the state’s budget and create economic stimulation and jobs through a highway infrastructure plan.
Justice touted the plan while members of the Senate Transportation Committee considered and ultimately approved Senate Bill 477, a bill requested by the governor that includes a lot of the points in his highway infrastructure plan.
Justice’s Save Our State plan has two parts he refers to as “Don’t Cripple” and “Immediate Jobs.”
“Don’t Cripple” includes balancing the budget for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and “Immediate Jobs” refers to his highway plan.
To balance the budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, 2017, Justice proposes to close the estimated $500 million state deficit by raising taxes on sugary soft drinks and cigarettes, revising pension contributions and reducing previously proposed fractional sales and corporate tax hikes. He’s also called on legislators to balance the current fiscal year, fiscal year 2017, by taking a one-last-time withdrawal from the state’s de facto savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, to balance a $123 million shortfall.
In the second part of the plan, Justice has called for major highway reconstruction to boost the state economy, funded by bonding seeded with revised taxes and fees. Justice said Wednesday that his conservative estimate was that it would create 48,000 jobs.
To fund his roads plan, Justice has proposed raising the E-ZPass fee to $8 and raising the West Virginia Turnpike toll fee to $4, with half of that revenue funding the Turnpike and the other half going toward all other roads.
He also has called to raise DMV fees from just less than $30 to $50 and let West Virginians go every three years between vehicle inspections, instead of the current annual inspection requirement.
He wants to increase the state’s tax on gasoline by 4.5 cents, and he wants to double the state’s road maintenance fund for repairing roads, potholes and bridges. The state’s gasoline tax currently is 20.5 cents per gallon.
He’s also called for the Legislature’s approval to allow West Virginians to vote on a 20-year, $400 million bond measure that would fund what he said was shovel-ready road construction throughout the state.
“Transportation is such a necessary part of our lives, and we’re thrilled Governor Justice has made it the centerpiece of our economic recovery,” Smith said after the event. “Transportation touches every part of our lives – everything from the cost of food at the grocery store to how safe your young driver is traveling on the roadway. In transportation, there’s a cost of doing nothing, and if we do nothing, there will be costs, like bent rims and sitting in traffic. This plan gets us going again in investing in stuff that, if it slips, frankly it will cost more to fix in the future.”
While Justice was in Huntington, SB 477 advanced from the Senate Transportation Committee to the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday afternoon.
The proposed bill includes language that establishes a 5-cent increase per gallon for gas and increases fees for vehicle titles and other related documents from $5 to $10. If signed into law, SB 477 also would increase the cost of reproducing DMV records from $1 to $1.50 and take the cost of vehicle registration from $28.50 to $50.
The fiscal note for the bill indicates the bill, in its current form, would generate a little more than $33.9 million.
The Senate Finance Committee meets again at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, March 16, but it was unclear at press time as to whether SB 477 was on the committee’s agenda.
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