West Virginia lawmakers will decide in special session Monday whether or not to approve the allocation of an additional $ 150 million for highway maintenance.
Delegates and senators got a glimpse of the proposal during interim legislative meetings on Sunday evening. Transportation Secretary Byrd White said the money would go to 400 projects across the 55 counties. The heads of state described 742 miles in total of paving.
As examples, he described some bridge projects, repairing slips on bus routes or repairing slips on commercial routes.
“We intend to expedite the completion of these projects,” White told members of two legislative committees who met for the presentation. “These $ 150 million will be used to accelerate the completion of this work.”
Governor Jim Justice announced the special session at the end of last week, focusing on additional spending on highways as well as allocating part of the Covid relief to the Department of Health and of Human Resources and the Ministry of Education.
The special session coincides with a day when lawmakers were already convening for interim meetings. The issues of the special session should not be controversial, and no one expects the session to last longer than a day.
Justice has proposed spending more money on highways as it becomes clearer that the state government will close the fiscal year with more money than expected.
West Virginia announced that its tax revenue went into $ 152 million in advance estimates last month. This was built on the strength of income tax collections that arrived a month later than usual because the pandemic caused the deadline to be postponed.
More generally, the governor predicts that the state budget will exceed annual estimates by $ 400 million by the end of the fiscal year.
Justice concluded that there was a lot of money to stimulate state investment in roads.
“This money is really needed,” Justice said last week. “Absolutely, it’s going to really, really help us continue on the path we’ve been on, which is to continue to do more and more to make our roads better and better and better for all of our residents. “
Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, agreed. Linville chaired a Sunday evening session of the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Department of Transportation Accountability.
“Yes, I think this $ 150 million dedication is a wise use of our taxpayer’s money, and it’s a theme for this legislature and this executive over the past three or four years that we want to fix things. sacred roads. It’s a continuation of our work in doing this, ”Linville said in an interview after the meeting.
The West Virginia state government operates with a few different funds. The main spending fund is called the general fund, which is filled with a variety of taxes, including sales and income. Separated from this is the State Road Fund, which is funded by fuel taxes, vehicle sales taxes and fees paid when registering vehicles.
In this case, the $ 150 million will be transferred from the General Fund to the Roads Fund, which is not uncommon but has not been routine either.
“This will be the third year in a row that we’ve committed additional general revenue dollars,” Linville said.
Linville asked Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston about the precedent during the meeting. Wriston said lawmakers had generally not allocated general revenue dollars to highways during his career until recently.
“So it’s a continuation of that work that we started and we’re starting to see it in cool pavement,” Linville said.
The extra money is needed, Linville said, for several reasons. The first is that the gasoline tax does not extend so far when more people drive more efficient vehicles. The other is wear and tear on roads which can collapse in bad weather or increased use.
“I think it’s twofold. I think that specific $ 150 million reflects the general need across the state. This would be true regardless of the performance of the state road fund, ”he said.
“But on top of that, those who fund their roads for this maintenance and use gasoline taxes – we’re seeing increasingly fuel efficient cars. Some are all electric. In some cases, these people do not pay taxes into this fund to drive their vehicles on these common roads.
White and Wriston received several questions from lawmakers on the proposed $ 150 million on Sunday evening.
Marty Gearheart delegate R-Mercer posed a series of questions intended to shed light on the reasons for the expense request.
“So your acceleration is simply based on the fact that you have available cash? Is this a correct assumption? Gearheart asked.
White agreed this was a major factor.
“Did you all go to the governor to ask for those dollars, or was it the governor who came out on the highways and asked if you could spend it?” Gearheart asked.
“We went to see him,” White replied.
Senator Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, wanted an explanation as to why some counties appeared to be online for large sums of money more than others.
White and Wriston said the money should be seen as an extension of projects already underway in the counties. Thus, the more investments a county has already received, the less it will need this allocation. Or, seen from the other side, the less a county had ever received, the more it might need.
Another factor, they said, is that road conditions are not the same in all counties. Some roads may have deteriorated due to particularly severe winter storms. Others could be in natural gas fireplaces and regularly used by large trucks.
“The needs of different counties cost different amounts of money,” White said. “What we would like to be judged on is what we have done.”