Panel Looks at Tax Hikes For West Virginia Road Repairs

CHARLESTON (AP) – A commission studying West Virginia’s highway system is proposing tax and fee increases to raise millions of dollars for maintenance and repairs.

The proposals include increasing the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, increasing vehicle registration and title fees, raising the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack, increasing the excise tax on diesel fuel and raising the automobile privilege tax.

The West Virginia Blue Ribbon Highway Commission decided Wednesday to hold six public hearings around the state on the proposals in June, media outlets reported Thursday.

If all the proposals were approved, they would generate more than $400 million in additional revenue annually. But that’s less than half the funding needed to fully maintain and repair the state’s roads and bridges.

“It will be a challenge to get anything close to $400 million,” said Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, a member of the commission.

“You’d just start sucking the life out of everything else in state government,” he said.

Another commission member, Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said the public needs to be educated about the financial cost of allowing roadways to deteriorate.

“What’s the cost to commerce?” he asked. “I’m trying to make sure we’ll be able to compete, both globally and locally.”

More than 1,300 miles of state roads are deficient and about 653 miles of roadways have unacceptable levels of congestion, Wes Stafford with the engineering consulting firm CDM Smith told the commission.

Stafford said nearly 39 percent of state roads will be deficient within 25 years if current funding levels are not increased.

“We’ve got to come up with the money some place, and the public is the only place that can cough the money up,” said commission member Jan Vineyard, president of the state Oil Marketers and Grocers Association. “We’re going to have to do one heck of a job to get people to say ‘I’m going to re-elect Sen. Plymale and Sen. Beach even though they raised my taxes.'”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin established the commission in August 2012 to develop a long-term plan for the state’s highway system. Its members include state officials, members of statewide constituency groups, county and municipal representatives, legislators and citizens.

The commission is tentatively scheduled to present its final recommendations to Tomblin by July 1.