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Editorial: State road bonds key to West Virginia’s future

From The Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg:

State residents, business leaders and out-of-state tourists can all agree on one thing — the condition of West Virginia’s roads and bridges is a deterrent to the state’s economic well-being.

Economic development in our state and across our nation has always depended upon good infrastructure: Roads, bridges, water, sewer, telecommunications and, over the past decade, high-speed broadband service.

Without these key economic building blocks in place, job creators in business and manufacturing look elsewhere to invest in plants and equipment. After all, getting products and services to market in a timely, efficient and cost-effective manner is a key component of competing in today’s global economy.

The same is true for tourism. Our state boasts of some of the best tourism destinations on the East Coast: Canaan Valley, Snowshoe, Stonewall Resort, The Greenbrier, New River Gorge. The list goes on and on.

But what family wants to dodge potholes and pay for hundreds of dollars in repair and service on their vehicles just because they elected to experience “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia?

State residents know about the issues with the condition of our state roads and bridges all too well — they live with it every day. They too have paid the price in costly repairs on an ongoing basis.

For the past decade, a lack of sufficient funding by the Legislature has led us to the brink of disaster when it comes to our state roads and bridges.

Former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ignored the recommendation of his Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways to increase highways funding by at least $1 billion through a bond sale, which exacerbated the problem with each passing road construction season.

Gov. Jim Justice announced on Tuesday that a special bond election has been set for Oct. 7 so residents can vote on a constitutional amendment allowing the state to go after billions of dollars in road construction bonds.

The vote on the constitutional amendment is required before the state can commit funding to the road bonds as part of a $3 billion highway construction and repair program that Justice has been pushing since before the regular session of the Legislature began in February.

Senate Bill 1003, which gives the state Parkways Authority the power to raise tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike and apply tolls to other roads in the state, is a key funding component that would help pay off the construction bonds.

Together with Senate Bill 1006, which raises wholesale fuel taxes, increases sales taxes on motor vehicles and allows for increasing DMV fees, Senate Bill 1003 is designed to pay for what Justice called the largest roads program in state history. Justice said the most the state has ever spent on roads before was about $500 million.

The key point here is that Gov. Justice persuaded the Legislature to pass these two bills as part of his initiative to raise $140 million a year to fund the road bond prior to the referendum vote.

There was a strong “political” push to put off the vote on the revenue measures until after passage of the bond amendment. Had that happened, bond opponents could have fought the referendum as a vote on whether to raise gas taxes, the privilege tax on motor vehicles and various DMV fees.

Instead, the decision by voters will come down to whether to use the $140 million a year in new revenue to build roads on a pay-as-you-go basis or to finance the $1.6 billion in bonds that will enable more than 10 years of road and bridge construction to be completed in less than half the time.

Add in the creation of approximately 48,000 new jobs and the positive trickle-down effect on the state’s economy and the much-needed tax base — and it’s hard to argue with the governor’s plan.

“Of everything that has been done in this state … this is the biggest,” Justice said of his road construction plan. “This will absolutely save our state.

The Exponent Telegram Editorial Board agrees with the governor’s assessment. We must invest in our roads and bridges to attract new business and industry to our state, as well as tourists to allow them to see and enjoy all of the natural assets that make West Virginia “Almost Heaven.”

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