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Editorial: ‘Jim’s Promise’ for better roads, jobs

From The Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg:

Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday picked Harrison County as one of two locations in the state — the other was Putnam County — to kick off his statewide roads plan and also to plug an Oct. 7 special election to authorize the state to sell more construction bonds.

Justice has proposed about $2.8 billion in road construction and maintenance projects all over the state. State officials plan to fund about $1 billion in construction through raising tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike and traditional bond sales.

The additional $1.8 billion in projects will require a constitutional amendment to allow the state to pursue more bonds.

The West Virginia Legislature has already voted to raise gasoline taxes and increase DMV fees to pay for the additional bonds.

Voters will go to the polls Oct. 7 to decide whether or not to authorize the financing plan that will enable $3 billion of road work to take place over the next 3 to 4 years rather than doing about $200 million in roadwork in a piecemeal fashion over a 10- to 15-year period.

The key here is for voters to understand that by voting yes to support the bond amendment, they are enabling the single largest economic development initiative in the state’s history while creating an estimated 48,000 jobs to jump-start the state’s economy and generate millions of dollars in new tax revenues to alleviate state budget shortfalls that have plagued us for the past five years.

A “no” vote would not eliminate the 3.5-cent gasoline tax or DMV fee increases already approved and enacted by the Legislature.

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 that time.

State Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said it will take awhile for funding from the bills passed by the Legislature to trickle in. But he said highways officials have been getting ready for months in anticipation of the legislation and bond election and have leveraged $350 million worth of highways projects to start almost immediately.

He said the state plans to issue its first $230 million in GARVEE construction bonds in October, but said passage of the road bond amendment will give the state the money to pay for larger highways projects.

“This is about highways, but it’s about so much more,” Smith said. “It’s about economic recovery. It’s about hope. It’s about thousands and thousands and thousands of new jobs.

Justice, who is billing the roads program as “Jim’s Promise,” said the road construction program will be the vehicle leading to West Virginia’s economic recovery. To bring the state back, he said, “You’ve got to do something that creates immediate jobs.”

Justice said a massive road construction program was the obvious answer to put people back to work, stimulate the economy and help fight West Virginia’s drug epidemic.

“Jobs bring us hope,” Justice said. “This is absolutely what we need.

The Exponent Telegram Editorial Board agrees with the Harrison County Economic Development Corporation, which unanimously endorsed Gov. Jim Justice’s road bond initiative Thursday during the corporation’s annual meeting. The group’s director, Jamie Metz, indicated that a bond “which will not raise taxes one penny is the smartest way to pay for roads that will benefit the state for decades.”

The bond will move West Virginia forward to a brighter future. It’s time to make that happen.

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