West Virginians already pay enough taxes
The Statehouse is beating the drum for massive tax increases to feed an ever-growing state government.
(Employment by state government increased from 38,121 workers in 1995 to 43,353 people last year, according to Workforce West Virginia.)
Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed a Blue Ribbon Highway Commission to look at our highways and bridges, and sure enough, commissioners found them wanting.
Tomblin's commission determined the state needs to:
* Raise Turnpike tolls by $50 million a year.
* Nearly double the new vehicle registration fees to raise an additional $26 million a year.
* Raise title fees fivefold - to raise $19 million a year.
And the state would still come up $250 million short. Where to get that?
"It's got to be an approach where everyone feels some pain," said commissioner Jan Vineyard, president of the State Oil Marketers and Grocers Association.
There are just two problems with the commission's plan.
* State government does not need a single dime more.
* Highways and bridges are not falling apart.
The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation reported per capita government spending in this state is $10,985 a year - or double the national average of $5,251 a year.
Only Wyoming is higher at $13,585 a year.
Most of W.Va.'s money goes to welfare ($4.3 billion a year, mainly Medicaid) and education ($3.3 billion a year).
But taxpayers spent $1.3 billion on the Division of Highways last year, which oversees 38,646 miles of public roads.
That works out to $33,636 per mile per year, not exactly chump change.
And they want more?
The DOH also maintains 6,800 bridges.
The Federal Highway Administration reported that nearly 1,000 of those bridges are "structurally deficient" and another 1,600 are "functionally obsolete."
That sounds ominous until one considers that the worst bridge in the state is Elm Grove Stone Arch Bridge in Wheeling, which scored 12.4 points out of 100 in grading by the feds.
The Elm Grove Arch Bridge nonetheless handles 20,000 vehicles a day.
"We're not putting any vehicles across anything that's unsafe," Brent Walker, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, told the Gazette.
Before politicians demand that we stand and deliver more money, I suggest they review the state's prevailing wage law.
The conservative Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia estimated that this inflationary law adds 30 percent to the price of any public project.
Passed in 1933, the law is so old that if it were a bridge, the feds would declare it "functionally obsolete."
And it is.
Before we even consider raising any tax or fee in this state to keep our roads in good repair, we must repeal this law.
As Vineyard said, "It's got to be an approach where everyone feels some pain."
Taxpayers are in enough pain.
Surber's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.