CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It will be more than a week before the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways gives final approval to its recommendations for ways to fund West Virginia's road system, but at least one legislator is already denouncing its work as a "colossal failure."
Delegate Marty Gearhart, R-Mercer, issued a two-page statement Monday denouncing the commission's recommendations -- particularly a proposal to issue $1 billion in road bonds, to be repaid by keeping tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike for 30 more years.
"It's a little bit of a punch in the throat to the House of Delegates, which passed a bill last session to eliminate the tolls," he said.
A perennial bill in the House, the most recent version of legislation calling for Turnpike tolls to be eliminated once the current bonds are paid off in 2019 passed the House on a 97-1 vote on April 4. The bill was never taken up in the Senate.
Gearhart said he was disappointed that the 31-member commission, made up of representatives of business, labor, tourism, building contractors, academics and legislators, were unable after a year of study to come up with more innovative ways to fund state roads.
"What was billed as a gathering of the best and brightest minds in our state to determine needs, efficiencies and innovative means of paying for any potential additional needs in our highway system has failed in its advertised mission and appears to be a thinly veiled mechanism to heap additional costs on the backs of West Virginians in the name of a contrived crisis," Gearhart said in his statement.
He called the proposal to use Turnpike tolls to finance a $1 billion road bond "simplistic."
"It looks like they said, 'We have one toll road in the state, so we only have one revenue stream we can leverage,'" Gearhart said Monday.
In recommending the Turnpike bond issue -- modeled after a $1.5 billion turnpike road bond plan going forward in Ohio -- commission Chairman Jason Pizatella noted that out-of-state vehicles account for 76 percent of toll revenues, therefore the state highway system is effectively subsidized by nonresidents.
Pizatella also is chief counsel to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.