CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways believe they have found a way to generate $1.1 billion in funding for state infrastructure without raising taxes one penny.
Instead, the commission suggests the state increase tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, raise fees at the Division of Motor Vehicles by $77.4 million and create a $200 annual registration fee for alternative fuel vehicles.
The group met Wednesday to begin finalizing the report it will send to Tomblin. Members are compiling a list of suggestions for how West Virginia might raise road project funding.
The governor likely will use these suggestions to craft legislation for next year's regular legislative session.
In an effort to gauge public opinion before finishing their report, commission members recently held nine public meetings around the state, receiving almost 1,400 responses.
Only 36 percent of those supported increases to state fuel taxes. Slightly more — 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.
"The recommendations we made don't raise taxes at all," commission chairman Jason Pizatella said.
Meanwhile, a large majority of respondents, 82 percent, supported moving sales tax revenue from the sale of car repairs, parts and services into the road fund.
And while tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike currently are set to expire in 2019, 78 percent of survey respondents said they would support continuing those tolls to pay for new roads projects.
So that's the plan. Commission members on Wednesday approved the following suggestions for their final report:
n Increasing various fees at the Division of Motor Vehicles, generating about $77.4 million per year.
n Redirecting all sales tax money from vehicle repairs, automobile parts and similar purchases to the State Road Fund, generating about $25 million per year.
n Creating a $200 annual registration fee for vehicles not powered by gasoline or natural gas.
n Instituting a $100 annual registration fee for "hybrid" vehicles powered by a combination of petroleum-based fuel and electricity.
Combined, those recommendations would generate just over $100 million.
That's significantly less than the $1.3 billion a recent engineering study said West Virginia would need to maintain its current roads while continuing to expand its infrastructure.
Not to worry: Commission members believe they can generate another $1 billion by borrowing money through road bonds.
The state would repay that debt by keeping tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, which are currently set to come off in 2019.