Republican leaders of the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates say there's little support among their members for the fee and Turnpike toll increases proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Highways Commission.
The commission approved most of its recommendations to Tomblin at a meeting last week, and will meet later this month to finalize its report.
Members say their recommendations would not increase taxes, although the plan includes a new fee on alternative fuel vehicles and significant increases to Division of Motor Vehicles fees, generating an estimated $100 million per year.
Although members have not approved this suggestion yet, the commission probably also will recommend the state sell $1 billion in road bonds, keep tollbooths on the West Virginia Turnpike to help pay back that debt while gradually increasing those tolls.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, agreed the state needs more money to fix its aging infrastructure but said the public is unlikely to accept new fees or increased tolls.
"Whether it's a fee or a tax, it's money they don't have to put food on their table," Armstead said. "I think there are ways we can do that without placing a new tax burden on our citizens. I just don't think they can afford to have that burden placed on them."
He pointed out the Legislature passed a bill in 2011 to increase DMV fees by $43 million a year. Tomblin vetoed the bill, saying it would place too much burden on West Virginia taxpayers.
"I think the people of West Virginia are still hurting and having a hard time making ends meet," Armstead said.
Hall said that veto "left a bad taste" in many lawmakers' mouths. They took a political risk and passed the fee increases, only to have Tomblin strike it down, and are unlikely to support a similar measure again.
Hall said the commission's recommendations, as they appear now, probably would have a difficult time surviving the legislative process. He also said the proposed fee and toll increases are not very popular with the public, based on conversations he's had with constituents.
"I don't see a public buy-in yet," he said.
Commission chairman Jason Pizatella said the group's recommendations have received significant public support, based on responses during recent public meetings held throughout the state.
"We heard loud and clear there was no appetite for tax increases but some of the alternative methods ... that we thought it was something that could gain some support," he said.
The commission received 1,400 responses to its public opinion survey, and found 36 percent of respondents supported increases to state fuel taxes
and 45 percent said they would favor increasing the consumer sales tax to fund road projects while about half said they would support increases to the vehicle tax.
Significantly more, 78 percent, said they would support continuing Turnpike tolls to pay for new roads projects. Sixty-four percent favored increased DMV fees.