CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of a state panel agreed Wednesday on the price tag to fully build and maintain West Virginia's road system -- an additional $1.13 billion to $1.28 billion a year -- but not on ways to pay that tab.
Ultimately, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways voted to hold six statewide public hearings in June, with all funding options -- ranging from a 1 percent increase in sales taxes to a $200 registration fee for alternative-fuel vehicles -- on the table.
However, all the options discussed Wednesday wouldn't come close to paying the annual bill for the needed road construction.
Brenda Nichols Harper of the state Chamber of Commerce had recommended scaling back the needed additional funding to $400 million a year.
"I'm very concerned that we are asking for more than the taxpayers in the state can afford," Harper said of the billion-dollar figure.
However, Marshall University professor Andrew Nichols said the commission should not soft-pedal the costs to maintain the state's road system.
"We're doing a disservice as a commission if we set aside the system needs to come up with a number we think is more palatable," he said.
Commission members considered putting together several proposals of combinations of tax and fee increases to take out for public comment, but they heeded the advice of retired West Virginia University business and economics professor Tom Witt to leave all funding options on the table.
If the commission proposed several funding packages, Witt said, "the natural tendency of everyone is to pick the one that's cheapest."
Proposals discussed Wednesday to fund road construction included:
• Increasing the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, with the increase dedicated to the Road Fund, providing an estimated $200 million in annual revenue.
• Increasing Division of Motor Vehicle fees. Proposed increases include raising vehicle registrations from $28.50 to $49, and increasing titles from $5 to $40, for total additional annual revenue of $64.2 million.
• Increasing the automobile privilege tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, which would raise $37.2 million.
• Increasing the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack, with the increase dedicated to the Road Fund, raising $37 million.
• Increasing the excise tax on diesel fuel, which would raise $14.5 million.