Highways bill advocates asked to support PEIA option

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Highways bill advocates asked to support PEIA option
By Jeff Jenkins | WV MetroNews

House Finance Committee Chair Eric Nelson pulled a highway funding bill (SB555) from his committee’s agenda Tuesday morning saying there’s not support for it.

The bill would raise taxes and fees to generate more than $200 million a year to go toward repairs of the state’s roads and bridges.

Despite Nelson’s actions, one bill supporter believes there’s still time for the legislature to pass the bill before the Saturday night end of the 60-day regular session. Contractors Association of West Virginia Executive Director Mike Clowser told MetroNews after the finance committee meeting the bill is still “very much alive.”

Clowser’s optimism is based on two new developments; a new poll and a possible Public Employees Insurance Agency component to the bill.

Highway supporters were approached Monday night by lawmakers and asked if they would support taking a half-percent of the proposed 1 percent increase in the sales tax and placing in toward the $120 million hole in PEIA along with helping the state budget, Clowser said.

“If we can get dollars to fix our roads and create jobs and put people back to work and make our roads safe and fix PEIA’s problems and help our state budget—we are willing to do that,” Clowser said.

A new poll conducted last weekend is also helping bill supporters, Clowser said.

Four-hundred likely voters were spoken with and 75 percent of them believed the roads were in urgent need of repair and 62 percent support the bill (SB 555) pulled from the agenda Tuesday.

“Twenty-eight percent of them strongly support the funding measures in the bill,” Clowser said. “The most popular option is increasing DMV fees.”

Clowser believes the pressure will be too great for lawmakers not to do something this session.

“I think the public is coming out loud and clear—it’s time fix our roads—and they expect the legislature to do just that,” Clowser said.

The bill, as it was passed by the Senate, would increase the state Consumer Sales Tax from its current 6 percent to 7 percent, a 3 percent increase in the state wholesale tax on gasoline when the price is under $2.00 a gallon, an increase DMV fees along with an increase in the privilege tax levied in the purchase of automobiles.