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House candidates differ on U.S. 35 funding

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Candidates for the House of Delegates 13th and 14th districts unanimously oppose putting tolls on U.S. 35 as a way to pay for completion of the highway's expansion project.

"We need the road. We don't need the toll," said Scott Cadle, a Republican running for one of two seats in the 13th District.

However, political newcomers like Cadle and incumbent House members running for re-election don't agree on how to fund the U.S. 35 project in Mason and Putnam counties. A 14.6-mile stretch remains unfinished.

One candidate suggested putting a statewide bond issue before voters.

"Why can't we do a state bond to pay for it?" said Jimmie Wood, a Democratic candidate in the 14th District.

Other candidates said the state could fund U.S. 35 by cutting wasteful spending or redirecting money from other state accounts.

"Why can't we take money out of the surplus and do it for economic development?" said Jim Butler, a Republican candidate in the new House 14th District.

At least two candidates, 13th District Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam, and Cadle, said the state might consider raising gasoline taxes -- although Paxton said he wouldn't necessarily support a fuel tax hike.

"Our roads are terrible," said Cadle, a truck driver. "So we pay as we go a little bit at a time. That's the only way I see the revenue."

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has appointed a "blue ribbon" commission that's studying West Virginia's highways -- and how to pay for road construction and repairs statewide as federal funding decreases.

Delegate Helen Martin, D-Putnam, said she would wait for the commission to issue recommendations before she would support specific proposals to pay for U.S. 35.

"The road is horrible, but tolls aren't the solution," said Martin, who was appointed to the 13th District seat last year after the death of her husband, Delegate Dale Martin. "I'm hoping the commission has some good, solid answers."

The candidates, who met with Gazette editors Thursday, also spoke about a statewide audit of the Department of Education and K-12 schools.

The 150-page audit said West Virginia has one of the most highly regulated education systems in the country and recommends a series of major changes -- from what it called right-sizing the state education department to implementing energy savings in schools that would save millions.

If fully implemented, the audit said, West Virginia could save $90 million a year on its education system.

Paxton, vice chairman of the House Education Committee, declined to comment on the specific recommendations.

"I'd rather wait and see what they found," Paxton said. "I do know it's thorough. I know they're looking at a lot of things."

Wood, a construction worker running in the 14th District, said he supports the audit's recommendation that the education department no longer run the Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley. Wood said another state agency could run the Jackson County facility.

"It would be better taken out of education," Wood said.

Brian "Scotty" Scott, a Republican in the House 13th District, said West Virginia's teachers are assigned "too many administrative side chores." Scott, a substitute teacher, said his colleagues struggle to teach students of different abilities.

"When it's all said and done, nobody's getting the instruction they need and deserve," Scott said.

Butler said he doesn't understand why it has taken so long for the state Board of Education to respond to the audit.

"I think the audit came out in January, and we've spent $750,000 on it, and we've done nothing," Butler said. "We're dropping the ball here."

Cadle gave the state's schools a blunt assessment: "The education system is a wreck," he said.

The House 13th District covers parts of Putnam, Mason and Jackson counties. The 14th District stretches across Putnam and Mason counties.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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