Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A proposed tax and fee hike that would raise millions of dollars for maintenance and repair of Mountain State roads could be a tough sell without a clearly defined road map of how and where those funds will be used.
Specifically, citizens in southern West Virginia need to know if the funds raised from the proposed increases sought by the West Virginia Blue Ribbon Commission will be used to help repair aging bridges and archaic roadways across the deep south counties. And there’s also the critical need in our region for additional state funds to help jump-start long delayed road construction projects such as the King Coal Highway, the Coalfields Expressway and the Shawnee Parkway. A funding formula would have to be defined that equally and fairly distributes such dollars for the maintenance and repair of roadways across the state.
Simply put, the deep south counties, which are riddled with aging brides and deteriorating roadways, can’t be ignored.
But if an announcement from the commission chair Monday is any indication, we see little reason for hope. Jason Pizatella, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission, told the Register-Herald in Beckley that the six public hearings scheduled to receive input on the revenue raising plan will be held in Beckley, Wheeling, Fairmont, Martinsburg, Parkersburg and Huntington.
What — no hearings in Bluefield, Princeton or Welch? Should we really be surprised? This is not the first time, after all, that such state-appointed committees or commissions have ignored the deep south counties. What kind of message does this decision send to the good folks in Mercer and McDowell counties? It would appear to reinforce the argument that the state line stops at Beckley. And that’s just sad.
Marc Meachum, the only local commission member who also serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, was unaware Monday of Pizatella’s announcement of the public hearing locations. Meachum said he would contact Pizatella and urge him to consider a public hearing in Mercer County.
We, too, would strongly urge the commission members to schedule a public hearing in Bluefield or Princeton.
The commission has outlined a number of proposed tax and fee hikes, including increasing the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, increasing vehicle registration and title fees, raising the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack, increasing the excise tax on diesel fuel and raising the automobile privilege tax. If all of the proposed increases were to be approved — and this would be a tough sell to many families and business owners in the state — the plan would then generate more than $400 million in new annual revenue for road repairs and maintenance.
But in order to gain public support the commission must be clear about how these new funds would be used, and how they would be equally distributed across the state. The group is scheduled to present its findings to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on July 1, after the six public hearings.
As it stands right now, folks across the deep south counties won’t even have a say in the process unless they drive to Beckley and pay the toll booth in the process. Is that fair?