CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Candidates for three new House of Delegate districts say fixing roads and revamping education should be among West Virginia's top legislative priorities.
Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, who's running for one of two seats in the new House 22nd District, said federal funding for West Virginia's highways continues to decline, and lawmakers must find new ways to pay for road construction and repairs.
"[Roads] are an everyday life issue," said Stowers, who recently was appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to serve on a special committee studying state highway funding. "It's an economic development issue. We have to fix our roads."
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, a candidate in the new House 38th District, echoed Stowers' comments. But Lane said gasoline taxes and license fees shouldn't be increased to build and repair roads.
"I'm simply not willing to raise taxes," said Lane, one of seven House candidates who met with Gazette editors in Charleston on Monday. "The answer is we have to reprioritize the [state] budget."
Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, a candidate in the new House 39th District, said the state could improve highways with funds now sitting idle in several state accounts. Three years from now, West Virginia also might be able to tap millions of dollars in personal income tax revenue now being used to pay off the state's workers' compensation debt, he said.
"I can't think of anything more important than a safe highway," Walters said. "It's fundamental."
Gary Johngrass, a Republican candidate in the 22nd District, suggested the state fund highway construction by allowing more casinos to open in West Virginia.
"The revenue is humungous," Johngrass said. "People are now flocking to casinos."
But Michael Moffatt, also a Republican running in the 22nd, said gambling has ruined cities such as Atlantic City, N.J.
"It's a hellhole except for the casinos," said Moffat, who also opposes giving tax breaks to casino operators to upgrade slot machines.
Stowers said gambling seems to have leveled off in West Virginia in recent years. "I don't know if the demand is there," he said.