Thoughts on the special election

West Virginians will have the opportunity to vote on a road bond on Saturday, Oct. 7. If you are not already registered to vote, the deadline to register is Sept. 18. Early voting will take place from Sept. 22 – Oct. 4. Hours will be regular courthouse hours Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, closed Sunday. There are also provisions for absentee ballots and emergency absentee voting. The ballots will be paper this time because with only one issue to vote on, the paper ballot saves some money. The estimated cost for this special election is $3.1 million dollars statewide.

This special election is to amend the West Virginia Constitution to allow the State government to borrow money in excess of what is now allowed in the West Virginia Constitution. It is important that voters understand that while the terminology says that we are going to “issue bonds,” that means that we are borrowing money which has to be repaid by taxpayers. You will be asked to vote “for the amendment” or “against the amendment”; the language on the ballot will be as follows: “To provide for the improvement and construction of safe roads in the state by issuance of bonds not to exceed $1.6 billion in the aggregate to be paid for from the State Road Fund and the collection of annual state taxes as provided by the Legislature by general law.”

So what does it cost to borrow $1.6 billion dollars? We were told in the finance committee that over the 25 year term of the “loan’’ we will likely repay approximately $4.5 billion, depending on interest rates. The specifics of the amendment say that we would borrow $800 million in 2018, $400 million in 2019, $200 million in 2020, and $200 million in 2021. Again, payments could be made from funds already directed to the State Roads Fund such as funds collected from recent DMV fee, car sales, and fuel tax increases, or, we could end up needing to increase taxes again to “service the bonds.” West Virginia currently collects over $1.2 billion from existing DMV fees, car sales tax, and fuel taxes for road work. Those three taxes/fees are the only source of funding for roads. It is estimated that we would ultimately need to double that $1.2 billion amount just to maintain the roads we have now. The exception to the funding mechanism just explained is the toll road currently running from Charleston to Beckley, which is paid for with toll revenue. By the way, there are already arrangements to fund the completion of Route 35 with, or without, this amendment. That plan had to be in place when the contract was awarded in 2015, my third year in the Legislature.

Some of the reasons you will hear to vote for the bond amendment are that we need to repair our roads, and I think we all agree with that. We also have several major new roads, or expansions which require funding; that the road construction will provide construction jobs, jobs for equipment maintenance, and construction material demand.

Some concerns you will hear to a vote against the bond amendment are that we would be placing a large financial burden on taxpayers for at least 25 years; that many of the construction jobs would go to out of state contractors and workers because there are not enough West Virginia contractors or workers to complete all of the work at the rate of projected spending; and that much of the material bought for the projects would be purchased from out of state companies.

A few other facts that you should know is that there is a pending lawsuit that alleges that the West Virginia Department of Highways, due to a price fixing scheme, has been paying approximately 40 percent more than the “market value” for asphalt; in other words we are paying for 10 miles of pavement but only getting 6 miles. While this lawsuit is not settled, the new administration, which took office this year, has done nothing to ensure that we are paying reasonable prices for asphalt. The recent Department of Highways audit identified a number of issues which indicated mismanagement. Finally, a recent news report in the Charleston Gazette-Mail stated that the Department of Highways continues to award bids to a company whose executive pled guilty to participating in a kickback scheme. In my opinion, these are issues which need to be corrected, especially before asking you for more tax money. To be fair to the new administration though; it will take some time to make corrections. Yes we need to maintain and build roads, but we have to do it in smart and efficient way.

We all have a decision to make, it is important that we know what we are voting on. I will follow up in coming weeks to update you on the bond issue, as well as how the toll road expansion throughout West Virginia may affect all of us.

It is an honor to serve you in the State Legislature, please join me as I pray for all of our leaders and our great nation at a difficult time.


Delegate Jim Butler

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Thoughts on the special election

By Jim Butler

Contributing columnist

Jim Butler (R) represents the 14th district in the House of Delegates.