Opinion: Road Bond Will Bring Immediate Benefits

Sep 12, 2017

Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, is chairman of the House of Delegates Finance Commitee

When West Virginians turned control of the Legislature over to Republicans in 2014, they did so with a clear mandate: turn the state’s economy around and help create jobs.

In the years since, we’ve reformed the state’s legal environment, begun stripping needless regulations off the books, and passed a right-to-work law to make our state more attractive to new businesses.

While those important reforms can help improve the environment for job creation, they don’t themselves directly create jobs. But earlier this year, the Legislature did give West Virginia citizens the opportunity to vote on a new, ambitious program that will create thousands of new jobs here in our state.

On Oct. 7, West Virginians will have the opportunity to vote on a $1.6 billion road bond initiative that will dramatically improve our state’s infrastructure while boosting our economy through the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in the coming years.

I fully support this road bond proposal, and encourage you to vote for it too. If passed, it will mean greater safety for motorists, significant reduction in potholes (thus less money spent on vehicle repairs), and investment in economic and job growth for many years to come.

It is well noted businesses look at the local infrastructure when they decide to move to a location. That’s why it’s important to have the best system of roads and bridges possible to attract companies to this state.

Recently, West Virginia was ranked last in CNBC’s “Top States for Business.” The second-most important factor in that ranking system: infrastructure.

If we want to make our state more attractive to business, we need to improve our infrastructure, and this bond issue will do just that.

No other bill or program approved by the Legislature can create so many jobs in one fell swoop. This could mean more people working instead of being unemployed, more money in peoples’ pockets to spend in our local stores, and more hiring by those businesses who see that boost.

In addition to the immediate construction jobs, improving our infrastructure will have a significant long-term effect on our state.

“But what about the cost?” you may ask.

Many times when a bond or levy is put before voters, it means there will need to be increased taxes to pay for them. But that’s not the case with this bond vote.

Earlier this year, Gov. Justice, with the Legislature, took steps to raise additional revenue for our State Road Fund. During the special session in June, the Legislature passed $130 million in additional annual revenue from gas taxes and other fees for our roads.

These additional funds are dedicated to repay the $1.6 billion bond issue. The bond will be fully supported by leveraging these annual revenue flows over 25 years. These funds will produce more than $3.2 billion over the life of the bond – more than enough to cover repayment.

This is important: Approving this bond will not increase taxes. The funding is already there.

The question before voters is whether we use that $130 million that was already approved to fund the bonds or, instead, delay investment over time.

Think about it: We can either get $1.6 billion to pay for projects now, or let the money be spent here-and-there over time.

We’ve already seen how the pay-as-you-go system has not kept pace with inflation and needs. Total annual State Road Fund dollars have remained flat for the last 10 years at $1.2 billion, while costs have gone significantly higher.

That’s why it’s taken so long to get projects like the U.S. 35 expansion moving, or why we’ve not expanded Jefferson Road to Corridor G in South Charleston, or moved to complete Corridor H and the King Coal Highways, to name a few large dollar projects.

If we approve the $1.6 billion bond, we can get to work immediately.

If we don’t approve the bond, these projects will continue to sit on the back burner waiting for funds to free up. It will also make these projects more expensive as costs continue to rise due to additional deterioration and inflation over time.

Approving this road bond during the Oct. 7 election (early voting takes place Sept. 22 - Oct. 4) will mean these critical projects are completed sooner and cheaper, long-overdue maintenance will be addressed, our road safety improves, and – best of all – we provide a more immediate economic benefit and job creation for our state.

I encourage everyone to support this investment in West Virginia’s future.

Republican Delegate and House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson represents the 35th District, which includes portions of Kanawha County.

This op-ed represents the views of the author, and does not necessarily represent the views of West Virginia Public Broadcasting or its employees. We want to hear from many diverse viewpoints on this and other issues - submit prospective op-eds to feedback@wvpublic.org