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Justice chief of staff to push for road bond approval


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With just three days on the job, newly appointed Justice chief of staff Mike Hall has a tall assignment: organizing a campaign to promote passage of the “2017 Roads to Prosperity” road bond referendum, with just six weeks until the Oct. 7 vote.

(Gazette-Mail file photo by F. Brian Ferguson)

Hall said he believes the key is to educate voters about the $1.6 billion bond issue, particularly over what is said is a misunderstanding that passage of the bond will result in higher taxes.

“People really want to know, will this make my taxes go up? The answer is no,” Hall said.

In June, state lawmakers passed a revenue package raising an extra $130 million a year for the state Road Fund, through a combination of increased gas taxes, Division of Motor Vehicles fees, and the privilege tax on vehicle purchases.

Over 25 years, those increases will raise more than $3 billion for the Road Fund, and part of that revenue will to underwrite the road bonds.

“All the revenue that is necessary to float these bonds, and get citizens of the U.S. and West Virginia to buy them is baked into the bond offering,” Hall said.

He said there’s no way to market the bonds if they somehow relied on passage of additional taxes by future Legislatures.

“Who would buy a bond on the possibility that at some point, there would be new taxes down the road?” Hall noted.

However, just days ago, the state Republican Executive Committee adopted a resolution opposing the bond referendum, in part, because of concerns it could lead to higher taxes.

Hall, a Republican and former state Senate minority leader, said that misunderstandings about how the road bonds will be financed is perhaps understandable, since the bond issues on ballots that voters are most familiar with — school bond levies — do require an increase in property taxes.

Hall said he foresees devoting the next six weeks to an educational campaign by the governor’s office and interested parties to assure voters that passage of the road bond amendment will not raise their taxes, and to convince voters that the Division of Highways has an “accountable and efficient” plan for road construction statewide.

“Our people deserve and need a better road system,” Hall said, adding, “I hope this transcends a political discussion. It’s about economic development, public safety and commerce.”

He said he hopes that includes Democrats who are angry at Gov. Jim Justice for changing political parties, and for firing previous chief of staff Nick Casey, a former state Democratic Party chairman.

Justice’s party flip had put the road bond campaign into hiatus, with Casey’s departure, and with the resignation of press secretary Grant Herring, who had been in charge of organizing the road bond campaign.

Hall said that was the reason for a meeting in the governor’s office Wednesday with representatives of businesses and contractors that are promoting passage of the bond amendment.

While proponents of road bond referenda in the past have set up political action committees to promote the bond issues, Hall said there is no need, and no time, to set up a PAC for the Oct. 7 referendum, and that the various groups will coordinate efforts to promote passage of the road bond amendment.

“I think you’ll see in the near future there will be a group of people working to create support for this bond vote,” he said.

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