One of the first bills introduced on behalf of Governor Jim Justice is one aimed at organizing the number of state-owned vehicles. The governor’s version of this bill, House Bill 2492, was introduced in the House of Delegates last week and referred to the committee on Government Organization. But lawmakers in that committee took up a different yet similar bill drafted by members in the House.
Members in the House Government Organization Committee took up a single bill Wednesday morning; House Bill 2004 – to create and maintain a centralized state vehicle inventory system. Under the bill, the data and information regarding state vehicles would be housed in the current Fleet Management Office and would distinguish state, county, and city vehicles with different color plates, much like the system West Virginia has in place today. The problem is that system hasn’t been working the way it’s intended to.
In fact, according to the Legislative Auditor's Office, the number of state vehicles ranges anywhere between 7,600 to 12,600. Green license plates are how state vehicles are identified, but the problem is organizations that are considered quasi-state agencies, such as community senior centers or public service districts, also get green plates even though the state doesn’t technically own them.
“When the state can’t answer a question of a $200 million plus asset, how much is actually there, we got a problem," said House Government Organization Chair Del. Gary Howell, R-Mineral, "so we started looking into it. And for the past, roughly ten months, we’ve been working on this with Fleet, DMV, and BRIM trying to come up with a solution.”
Howell is the lead sponsor of House Bill 2004. He says he and other members have also worked closely with the governor’s office in drafting his version of the bill. He says the state hasn’t been tracking the vehicles very closely and considering the state’s budget crisis, Howell says reorganizing the system, or essentially starting the count from scratch, will help.
“It won’t help the budget this year, but next year, once we get a number, we’re gonna be able to look at this and say, here’s some serious cost savings," he noted, "I expect to save tens of millions of dollars in subsequent years by getting control of the fleet.”
Bob Ashley, who was previously a member of both the House of Delegates and state Senate, is now the governor’s legislative director. He says having so many quasi-state agencies with green-plated vehicles, has posed a real problem that he says is addressed in another version of the bill presented by the governor. That bill would also create a new vehicle registry and change the plates issued to non-state agencies.
“If you’re a state vehicle, you’re a green and white license, if you’re a quasi-state vehicle, you’re a black and white license, and the people will know the difference on the road,” Ashley said.
The two versions of the bill, from Del. Howell and from Gov. Justice, are very similar, but the committee voted to advance the Legislature’s version of the bill.
Ashley says creating a reliable tracking system for state vehicles will save West Virginia taxpayers’ money.
“We’re gonna run it more efficiently," he said, "The vehicles, Fleet Management will keep an eye, and they do, but they will have an increased look at the gasoline, the usage, the wear-and-tear, when the vehicle’s been serviced; they will also have a better maintenance program for all the vehicles. It is really tightening up to make certain, for the taxpayer, that what vehicles are owned by the state will in fact be taken care of and recognized by the state.”
Five bills have been introduced on the governor’s behalf so far this session, but Ashley says a total of 29 are expected.