By SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The recent letter from Parkways Authority member G.W. “Bill” Seaver is a welcome development. Up until that letter, proponents of the current toll system have focused their efforts on discrediting those seeking to correct the obvious injustice of the current turnpike tax rather than seeking to work toward an acceptable solution. It appears that until Mr. Seaver’s letter, the obvious appeal of having out-of-state residents and businesses pay 76 percent of the repair and maintenance of the turnpike and the salaries of its employees has blinded those proponents to the obvious injustice and discrimination of the current toll system.
It is regrettable that this issue can’t be debated without resorting to name calling and accusing those who have different opinions of improper motives or of ignoring their responsibilities. Del. Marty Gearheart, who has capably spearheaded our latest effort, is just the latest in a long line of our representatives (including Eustice Frederick, Don Caruth and Mike Porter) who have worked diligently and in good faith to end the injustice represented by the turnpike tax. Similarly, I have known Bill Seaver for many years and believe him to be an honest, civic-minded person whose opinion is not motivated by financial gain. It is encouraging that he now acknowledges the unfairness of the method used to fund the turnpike and is offering an alternative solution.
Unfortunately, no one else on the Parkways Authority has been willing to consider any alternative other than continuing the tolls forever. During 2009 the House of Delegates adopted an amendment that I offered that required the Parkways Authority to investigate and, if feasible, implement a “single fee” to be paid by all West Virginia drivers which would produce the same amount that was produced by tolls received from West Virginia drivers during the preceding fiscal year. That would have removed tolls for West Virginia drivers and replaced them with a single payment of approximately $6 to $8 per passenger vehicle. The bill was passed by the Senate and signed by the governor. Rather than welcome the opportunity to explore other ways to pay for the share of the turnpike costs paid by West Virginia drivers, the Parkways Authority rejected the idea with very little investigation and no creative thought. Mr. Seaver’s letter is the first signal of the authority’s willingness to offer a creative alternative.
Many examples of the injustice of the turnpike have been offered, including the extra “tax” that must be paid by southern West Virginians who need medical care in Charleston (or the VA Hospital in Beckley), to local school systems whose students succeed and wish to participate in state competitions or tournaments, to those who wish to take their children to the “free” museum at the Capitol Culture Center or visit their elected representatives during legislative sessions. If there is any further need to demonstrate the injustice of the current system, here are some indisputable facts that are not commonly known:
• Every time you buy a gallon of gasoline in West Virginia, you pay a West Virginia fuel excise tax (currently 37.5 cents per gallon) that is used to repair and maintain all state maintained roads in West Virginia except the West Virginia Turnpike. According to the Parkways Authority, the sale of gasoline from the three turnpike plazas generated $2.4 million of West Virginia fuel taxes during the past year, none of which was used on the turnpike;
• Every time you buy a gallon of gasoline in West Virginia or any other state, you pay a federal fuel tax (currently 18.4 cents per gallon), part of which is divided among the states under the Interstate Maintenance/Rehabilitation program based upon a formula according to interstate mileage. West Virginia’s Department of Transportation receives funds from that program based upon 555 interstate miles, including the 88 miles of the West Virginia Turnpike. Between 1989 and 2009, approximately $79.5 million of the amount which West Virginia received was due to the inclusion of the turnpike in that formula, but not one cent was used to repair and maintain the West Virginia Turnpike. Under a different program called the Surface Transportation Program, the Department of Transportation also received approximately $7.2 million, not one penny of which was spent on the turnpike.
Thus, West Virginia users of the turnpike who purchase gasoline anywhere pay for roads everywhere else in the state plus the turnpike; other West Virginia drivers who buy gasoline pay for roads everywhere else in the state except the turnpike. How the injustice of that situation could be overlooked is, and has been a mystery to me.
Hopefully we have come to the point that we can get past the personal attacks and focus our joint efforts and creative energies on developing an acceptable method of ending the injustice to West Virginians who travel the turnpike.
John H. Shott
Delegate, 27th District