Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 8, 2013

Wrong direction

Toll recommendations preposterous

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways appears to be heading down the wrong road when it comes to its preliminary suggestions regarding the 88-mile West Virginia Turnpike.

The commission members are not only proposing a continuation of turnpike tolls past 2019 — once the original bond indebtedness is paid in full — but also a turnpike toll increase. These preliminary suggestions, which won’t be finalized until the commission’s next meeting on Sept. 19, unfairly target the hard-working citizens and business owners of southern West Virginia.

The commission was originally charged with identifying ways to raise additional revenue for road maintenance and repair. Raising tolls along the 88-mile toll road is not the correct way to do that. Other preliminary recommendations by the group include raising Division of Motor Vehicle fees by $77.4 million and the creation of a $200 annual registration fee for alternative fuel vehicles, according to an Associated Press report. The commission argues the three proposals, including the turnpike toll increase, would raise more than $100 million. And the commission members then propose raising another $1 billion by borrowing money through road bonds. And they say the $1 billion bond debt can be paid by keeping tolls on the turnpike.

Unbelievable! For the commission members to consider another $1 billion in debt for the Mountain State, and then to propose the payment of that debt through a continuation of turnpike tolls past 2019 — and a turnpike toll increase on top of that — is not only irresponsible action, but also a clear slap in the face to the deep south counties.

Legislation that would end tolls along the 88-mile turnpike by 2019 passed the House by a vote of 97-1 earlier this year, but was killed in the Senate when senators suggested the House action to remove tolls was premature because the Blue Ribbon Commission had not yet issued its final recommendations at that time.

Well guess what? It looks like waiting for those recommendations was a complete waste of time. The commission members must reverse course and abandon these harmful recommendations. There is still time to do this — and come up with sensible and fair solutions — because the preliminary recommendations place an unfair burden upon southern West Virginia, as correctly noted last week by Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer.

“I am disappointed that we didn’t consider first savings that might be enjoyed out of stream-lining operations out of the DOH,” Cole said. “That wasn’t even considered. We would like to see the tolls go away. While that may not truly be realistic in our lifetime, to suggest that we need to raise them dramatically is putting the burden of the state’s infrastructure improvements too much upon the south.”

Cole is correct. And if members of the commission are unable to see how unfair their ideas are then they have clearly failed in their designated mission.

If the Blue Ribbon Commission doesn’t reverse course, and come up with a plan that doesn’t unfairly and adversely target southern West Virginia, then its recommendations should be unanimously rejected by lawmakers and Tomblin.

Under no circumstances should lawmakers, or the governor, burden the Mountain State with another $1 billion in road bond debts. And to suggest that such a debt could be paid by keeping and raising turnpike tolls is nothing short than an attack upon the people of southern West Virginia.