Gov. Jim Justice promised West Virginians on Friday he won’t raise gas and highway taxes further if voters approve a roads bond next week.
Addressing skeptical voters at a senior center in Clarksburg, Justice said taxes are already in place to support bond payments. In his remaining terms as governor, he said he won’t sign legislation to raise them again.
“As long as I’m in town, there won’t be a chance on Earth it’ll go up,” Justice said.
Written language in the referendum caused some residents to question that.
It says: “When a bond issue as aforesaid is authorized, the Legislature shall at the same time provide for the collection of an annual state tax which shall be in a sufficient amount to pay the interest on such bonds and the principal thereof as such may accrue within and not exceeding 25 years.”
Justice insisted that’s required boilerplate language, and that the Legislature’s Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly voted to hold the referendum and lawmakers earlier this year also approved sufficient higher taxes to support it.
The passed legislation that Justice signed to raise the variable minimum wholesale gas tax by 3.5 cents a gallon, increase the vehicle sales tax 5 percent to 6 percent and hike the motor vehicle registration fee from $30 to $50.
Early voting has already begun in the Oct. 7 referendum on issuing and selling $1.6 billion in state bonds to finance road repairs and construction.
With federal matching funds, the governor has said it could generate twice that. The state list has 600 planned projects, mostly reconstruction and some new roads, using an estimated $2.4 billion that according to one formula should create 48,000 jobs directly or indirectly, according to Justice.
“There’s no hocus pocus additional tax that’s going to come upon you,” the governor said. It’s the fastest way for the state to create jobs while also improving the roads needed to attract businesses, and without it the state’s economic troubles will continue, he said.
In a public letter, state Delegate Michael Folk, a Martinsburg Republican, urges rejection of the bond proposal. He questioned how anyone could claim taxes won’t increase over the 25-year term of the bonds.
According to Folk, the jobs projection is exaggerated, based on a Duke University study that counts as separate jobs each road project that an individual worked on.