Those Country Roads’ are expensive to build
JOHN Denver had it right. West Virginia is almost heaven. But funding those "Country Roads" he sang about is a perplexing and difficult prospect.
The governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways laid out a proposal to finance construction. There is some good news and some bad. The need is very real.
The conservative Reason Foundation's annual report on highways ranked West Virginia 32nd among the states. From that report:
» West Virginia has the sixth largest state highway system.
» The state ranks second-to-last in spending per mile at $40,436.
» The state has the fourth-highest percentage of deficient bridges.
» The state suffers the fourth-highest fatality rate with 1.82 traffic deaths per 100 million miles driven.
For safety's sake, West Virginia must do a better job and that will require more funding.
The centerpiece of the commission plan is borrowing a billion dollars to be paid in part by maintaining and increasing tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike.
No doubt that will be the subject of much debate. But as commission chairman Jason Pizatella noted, 76 percent of the tolls come from out-of-state travelers.
Also proposed are increases in Division of Motor Vehicles fees, which have not been raised in decades.
The state also would slap higher registration fees on the owners of hybrids ($100 a year) and vehicles not powered by gasoline or natural gas ($200 a year).
That seems fair as the owners of those vehicles do not pay the federal and state fuel taxes that are the backbone of road funding.
Also fair is dedicating to the road fund those sales taxes generated by car repairs, parts and services.
The commission rejected increasing the sales tax, which is very good news. The people are taxed out.
But in exploring revenue options, the state also needs to look at expenses.
The prevailing wage law inflates labor costs by as much as 49 percent, according to a report by the conservative Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia.
West Virginians need good, safe roads. This will require more money, but it also will require good use of that money.