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State taxpayers are tapped out

THE construction industry is lobbying for tax increases so West Virginia can expand its highway maintenance and building program.

State Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox has estimated that over the next 25 years, the state will have $15 billion in federal and state money to spend on roads and bridges.

That would average $600 million a year.

Mattox and the construction industry contend that doing what the state actually needs to do would cost nearly triple that amount — $40 billion over 25 years — or $1.6 billion more.

My response as soon as I stop laughing:

It is not that I do not think we should spend that much money on the 36,000 miles of roads and 6,850 bridges that the state maintains.

But the money simply is not there.

The 1.8 million people in West Virginia are among the poorest and oldest people in the nation. They cannot give state government another billion dollars a year no matter how noble the cause.

Roughly 43 percent of the people in West Virginia are so old, so disabled or so poor that they qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.

Most people in West Virginia spend every dime they have on the basics and wish they had a few more dimes to spend.

Drivers now pay more than 50 cents a gallon in federal and state taxes on gasoline. The legislative candidate who promises to increase the gasoline tax might as well change his name to Road Kill.

Yes, it would be nice to drive on smoother roads.

It also would be nice to have another prison built to relieve the overcrowding at the regional jails.

It also would be nice to improve schools, fully fund pensions and provide new cruisers each year for each state trooper.

But until they discover gold in Calhoun County, money will be too scarce in West Virginia to raise the taxes needed for all that stuff and more.

Maybe we can increase that $600 million a year for roads to $700 million.

Lobbyists for the construction industry would have to show us, specifically, what we should cut elsewhere in the budget to pay for the road work.

Ditto for lobbyists who want to spend more money on social programs, education, the courts and dozens of other programs.

Yes, it would be nice to expand Medicaid to cover the people who aren't quite in poverty.

The reality is that West Virginians cannot afford the Medicaid program already on the books.

The state will cut the budgets of other agencies by 7.5 percent next year just to keep up with the skyrocketing price of Medicaid.

The reimbursements apparently are so low that, nationally, 31 percent of doctors do not accept Medicaid patients.  

I wish we could raise the reimbursement rates in West Virginia.

But state government must live within taxpayers' means.

I would like to buy a little red Corvette convertible, but I have my own maintenance and health programs to finance. I also have unfunded liabilities for my retirement.

In the 20th century, the nation was so prosperous that the government could "afford" any new program liberals could dream up.

All government had to do was raise taxes. Taxpayers were the geese who laid the golden eggs.

Now it's the 21st century, and the goose is cooked.

Government must act accordingly.

When lobbyists come asking for money early next year, legislators need to repeat the line from "Jerry Maguire": Show me the money.

Surber may be reached at


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