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Phil Kabler: Tolls provide needed funding

Sometimes it helps to have an outside perspective on state issues, which Planetizen writer Irwin Dawid provided with an article reviewing the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways' proposal to issue $1 billion in road bonds, to be funded by keeping tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike.

Picking up on reports that 76 percent of Turnpike revenue is paid by out-of-state vehicles, Dawid wrote, "It's the state transportation version of an hotel tax -- increase a fee predominantly paid by outsiders."

(FYI, Planetizen is a news website operated by Urban Insight of Los Angeles, and focuses on urban planning issues, including traffic and transportation costs. It's a useful site, if only to see that all states are wrangling with the same highways issues, as rising construction and maintenance costs rapidly outpace sources of revenue:

Currently, in addition to the article on West Virginia, there are articles about Colorado's proposed 0.7 percent sales tax increase to fund roads and transportation, and a plan in Texas to address a $4 billion road funding shortfall by giving about 2,000 miles of state highways to cities and counties to maintain.)

While using Turnpike tolls to fund a road bond may make sense to a detached observer 3,000 miles away, legislators in Mercer, Raleigh and Fayette are already vowing to fight such a proposal, even though Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has indicated he's not sold on the plan yet.

Likewise, from a big-picture perspective, if the tolls were ever removed from the Turnpike, the state highways funding hole would get even worse.

According to Parkways Authority general manager Greg Barr, the Turnpike provides about $83 million a year in toll revenue, $59 million of which goes to maintain the 88-mile stretch of interstate, with $3 million going to operate a State Police detachment and Courtesy Patrols on the highway.

• • •

Back in July, I wrote that no one should be surprised that both parties were having a hard time finding viable candidates to run for Congress or U.S. Senate, given this era of endless attack ads, and smear tactics by each party's congressional and senatorial committees.

Sure enough, no sooner had rumors surfaced that Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will announce her candidacy for U.S. Senate this week than National Republican Senatorial Committee operatives issued a lengthy treatise citing every statement Tennant has made that sounded even marginally positive (or not critical) of President Obama and the Obama administration.

Oddly, it included a quote from NRSC spokesman Brook Hougesen stating, "Tennant is far too liberal for the West Virginia Senate."

West Virginia Senate? Maybe he was thinking of her husband, Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha...

• • •

John Law, former Department of Health and Human Resources communications director, uses his newfound free time to publish e-mail and twitter alerts and updates on health care issues affecting the state.

Law had an interesting take on Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's intervening/interfering on issues regarding implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

(In a one-week period, one of the two companies designated by the federal government to provide navigator services -- West Virginia Parent Training, Inc. - announced it would no longer participate and was turning down a $365,758 grant, after Morrisey sent the organization a letter with numerous questions about how it would manage the grant.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Aetna/Coventry Health Care announced it had pulled out of the West Virginia insurance exchange, leaving Blue Cross/Blue Shield as the only provider on the state exchange.)

Law commented: "It is interesting that business types, particularly insurance types who probably supported Morrisey's candidacy over incumbent Democrat Darrell McGraw, don't now have a nice thing to say about him since he is threatening their lucrative contracts."

• • •

Speaking of lucrative and health care, regarding last week's item about rumors that Big Pharma is shopping around for candidates to challenge House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, Consumer Healthcare Products Association lobbyist Abby Sobonya issued this statement:

"I have not worked to recruit a candidate to run against Chairman Don Perdue, nor would I. I have the utmost respect for Chairman Perdue, all legislators and those on either side of the pseudoephedrine issue. I contacted Chairman Perdue today and informed him that the accusations are completely false." (Naturally.)

• • •

Finally, I've been covering the statehouse long enough to discern certain things, like location has a big impact on legislators' attendance at national conferences.

In 2007, when the Council of State Governments had its national conference at the El Conquistador resort in Puerto Rico, 26 legislators attended.

This year's CSG conference, which runs Thursday-Sunday, is in Kansas City, and not even Delegate Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, is going.

As of Friday, only one legislator - Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley -- was registered to attend...

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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