Alternative funding sources sought for West Virginia roads

| 6/2/2006

The head of the West Virginia Department of Transportation said the state’s tax on fuel could soon become a thing of the past.

Transportation Secretary Danny Ellis recently told lawmakers that with road building costs on the rise and fuel tax collections expected to lag in the next few years, the state will need to find alternative sources to pay for road and bridge work.

The state’s 27-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel and gasoline generates about $320 million annually. That amount is expected to drop to $260 million a year by 2009, The Charleston Gazette reported.

Ellis said part of the blame for the projected dip is high fuel prices. To combat the pain at the pump, drivers are expected to travel less and drive more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“We’re going to reach a time in the future where the (fuel) tax will be antiquated,” Ellis told The Gazette.

Transportation officials told the Finance Subcommittee C there are 11 options for generating road funding. One option would be to renew a 5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax before it expires Aug. 1. The tax, which is part of the state’s 27-cent tax, brings in about $55 million annually. The revenues are used as a match for federal dollars.

Another option mentioned calls for eliminating the highway agency’s transfer payments to the State Police, Public Service Commission’s weight enforcement division and the Department of Environmental Protection for waste tire removal. The transfers amount to $13.3 million a year.

Vehicle registration and/or driver’s license fees also could be increased. In addition, the state sales tax on materials used for road and bridge work could be removed. A portion of property tax collections also could be used for funding.

One other option would be to close the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles’ regional offices. The division’s operating expenses are $36 million a year, The Gazette reported.

If all 11 options were approved, the WVDOT would have as much as $233 million added to its coffers, The Register-Herald reported.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor