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WV Gov. Justice continues to promote road bond ahead of Oct. vote


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday it likely will be impossible to fill all the jobs that would be created by a $1.6 billion state road bond with West Virginia workers, but said that would be a good problem to have.

Gov. Jim Justice


“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to awaken to a situation where we had too many jobs to fill them with West Virginians?” Justice said during a conference call with reporters and editors from 35 newspapers around the state, hosted by the West Virginia Press Association.

Justice has repeatedly said that passage of the “2017 Roads to Prosperity” bond amendment would create 48,000 jobs on road construction projects statewide.

“To find 48,000 construction workers in West Virginia today is a difficult task. That’s all there is to it,” Justice said, adding, “The reality is some of those jobs are going to be filled with out-of-state workers.”

However, he said those workers will be paying payroll taxes, sales taxes and income taxes while they are in the state, and said it creates the opportunity for West Virginians who had to leave the state to find work to come back.

Later on the conference call, Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation executive director Steve White said state labor unions will provide apprenticeships and training programs for new workers, and said the roads projects will create demand for ancillary jobs such as drivers.

“Do we have enough people today? No – that’s the good news,” White said.

Justice, who has been making town hall appearances around the state to promote the Oct. 7 bond referendum, on Thursday called it “the single biggest vote West Virginians have ever had in the history of the state.”

Justice said he has concluded the $2.4 billion road construction plan, which would also include revenue from the sale of state Parkways Authority and GARVEE bonds, which do not require public approval, is the only viable way to jumpstart the state economy, saying it will instantaneously create “tens and tens of thousands of jobs.”

Justice again criticized opponents of the bond issue, saying they are trying to scare voters with false claims that the bond issue will require them to pay additional taxes and fees, beyond the $140 million-a-year funding increase approved by the Legislature in June.

“That is so un-West Virginian, if that’s a word. It’s so untrue,” he said of claims of higher taxes, adding that, “You’d have to be either an un- or a non-West Virginian to turn your back on this.”

Likewise, Justice criticized proponents of a pay-as-you-go road building option, saying it would take too long and would bring little economic benefit.

“All of us are going to grow old and die before those roads are finished,” he said of a pay-go alternative. “We’re not going to create the jobs, and we’re not going to create the revenue for the state.”

Asked about a timetable on the roads projects, Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said Highways began secondary road resurfacing projects in July, under an accelerated schedule made possible with the new revenue from increases in the gas tax, DMV fees, and the motor vehicle privilege that went into effect July 1.

If the bond referendum is approved, he said, “You’ll really see the lion’s share of this starting all over the state in the spring.”

He said he expects interest rates on the bonds to fall somewhere around 3.5 percent, with 20- to 25-year terms.

State Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby and Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher also participated in the conference call.

Ruby said better roads are key to Tourism’s strategy to encourage visitors to extend their stays in the state by promoting traveling to multiple attractions in each region.

“Our plan crumbles if our roads are not in good shape,” she said.

Thrasher said construction of new roads not only would provide access to new economic development sites, but would also jumpstart a state economy that desperately needs a spark.

Reach Phil Kabler at [email protected], 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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