ELECTION 2017: West Virginia voters approve road bond referendum

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/11/2017

Voters in West Virginia overwhelmingly approved a referendum question over the weekend to tap bonds to get needed road work done in each of the state’s 55 counties.
“This is when the work starts, this is when the jobs start,” Gov. Jim Justice posted on Twitter following the vote. “It’s historic.”

Justice says approval of the bond referendum will help the state create a total of $1.6 billion in funds to upgrade the state’s roads and bridges. There are multiple funding mechanisms for the projects.

Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds, or federal aid funds, approved by 73 percent of voters on Saturday, Oct. 7, are one component. GARVEE bonds are matched 80 percent federal funding to 20 percent state, or about $50 million to $55 million of federal funds to total $500 million of bonded funds.

The second component is turnpike revenue. The option would turn about $50 million of turnpike revenue into $500 million for the bonded account.

The final component is the general obligation bonds that include money from the Legislature’s recently approved increase in fuel taxes and vehicle fees.

Approved during a special session this year, the plan raises the state’s fuel tax rate by 3.5 cents. Specifically, the variable component based on wholesale price increased from a minimum of 11.7 cents per gallon to 15.2 cents. The flat portion of the fuel tax remains at 20.5 cents.

The motor vehicle sales tax, or privilege tax, is raised from 5 percent to 6 percent.

Various fees imposed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles were also increased on July 1.

In all, the tax and fee increases are estimated to raise about $130 million yearly.

“We appreciate the confidence the citizens of West Virginia have shown in us by passing Gov. Justice’s Roads to Prosperity Bond Amendment,” Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said in a released statement. “With the new revenues passed by the Legislature this most recent session, we can make meaningful improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure.”

Funds can only be used to complete interstate or other highway facilities designated as part of the federal-aid highway system or for toll bridges.

Justice says there are 600 road construction projects identified throughout the state. Included on the list is a West Virginia Turnpike widening project along 7.3 miles of the roadway in Beckley.

Monongalia County has the most projects on the list at seven, including plans for a new Interstate 79 access to downtown Morgantown.

The borrowing will be repaid within six to 12 years.

The governor has called for the Legislature to convene a special session on Oct. 16 to iron out details for moving forward.

For more 2017 election coverage from Land Line, click here.



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