The Senate’s Transportation Committee has voted to advance a bill that would hike some taxes and fees to help increase funding for the state’s roadways.
The bill was presented to lawmakers by Gov. Jim Justice, but is not part of his plan to generate more than $1 billion in revenues for a bond initiative.
Senate Bill 477's largest provision is an increase to the state's gasoline tax. Initially, Justice was asking for a 10 cent hike, but Senators were presented with a version of the bill that calls for a 4.5 cent increase.
The bill would also raise fees at the Division of Motor Vehicles starting in July of this year.
Some of those fees—which haven’t been increased in decades-- would increase by just a few dollars, others, like the annual vehicle registration fee, would increase by about $30. The rates would then be tied to the national consumer price index to automatically increase every five years for inflation.
Democratic Sen. Bob Beach almost immediately spoke in favor of the proposal in committee, but some lobby interests did not agree with Beach’s support.
Louis Southworth, who represents Go Mart convenience stores in West Virginia, told committee members the increased gasoline tax will only hurt retailers in border counties, who have already been impacted by the 2016 cigarette tax increase.
Republican Sen. Patricia Rucker from Jefferson County said that is her reality in the eastern panhandle. She drives just two miles to Virginia to buy gas some 35 cents per gallon cheaper than in West Virginia.
"All of those fees that you have before you in Senate Bill 477, that's in total about $90 a year," Mike Clowser with the West Virginia Contractors Association told the committee. "That is less than 25 cents a day in what it costs the average West Virginian.”
A higher gas tax and increased DMV fees means more money for road maintenance and construction projects, which would benefit the contractors and construction workers Clowser represents.
Republican Sen. Ed Gaunch said he’s struggled with trying to find another way to fund the state’s road system- something other than increasing taxes and fees- but he hasn’t been able to find one. That’s why he’s supporting the governor’s proposal.
His fellow committee members, with the exception of Rucker, joined him in his support for the bill. It now goes to the Senate’s Finance Committee for further consideration.