KEYSER, W.Va. — Senate Bill 354, which requires the West Virginia Department of Transportation to study alternative funding for state roads, was passed one day after it was defeated in the House Roads and Transportation Committee, according to a news release.
The committee approved the costly and duplicative study after a parliamentary maneuver that allows a committee member who voted on the winning side of a vote to reconsider the vote. The bill would require the study to be completed to the tune of $250,000, shortly after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways completes and publishes its findings.
The commission will present a report to Tomblin by May 1. The report will be put out directly if released by Tomblin, but if it’s released by the Joint Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, it will be when members meet in June, according to Delegate Gary Howell, a Republican from Keyser.
Howell, who voted against the bill, thinks that the money spent on the study will be “wasted” and will have an effect on funding for road maintenance throughout the state.
“This study is a huge waste of money and potentially an invasion of privacy,” Delegate Scott Cadle, R-Mason, said.
“Taxpayers should be appalled at this blatant waste of money that can and should be used for road maintenance,” said Delegate Danny Hamrick, who voted against the bill.
The bill primarily discusses only one alternative which could lead to legislation that would track the amount of miles driven by West Virginians annually by GPS for a Vehicle Mile Tax. The bill is studying the same thing that the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways is studying — funding options for the maintenance, construction and expansion of the state’s roadway system, according to Howell.
“The first $250,000 highway study has not even been published, yet here we are approving another study for the same issue,” said Howell in the news release. “We also know the only logical way to track miles for tax purposes is to use GPS monitoring. This is big brother out of control.”
The GPS tracking device would be placed on personal cars and trucks of West Virginia residents, according to Howell.
“We don’t need big brother tracking where every vehicle in West Virginia goes,” said Howell.
Vehicle mileage could be reported manually, as part of annual inspections or other state-mandated reporting, but at least one state has experimented with state-installed GPS devices to automatically track vehicle mileage, Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox told the Charleston Gazette.
The motor vehicle fuel tax has been a fundamental means of paying for state and federal roads, according to the bill. The state gas tax brings in nearly $400 million a year, but Mattox told the Charleston Gazette that collections of the tax have been flat in recent years, with increasing numbers of high-mileage vehicles and with the advent of alternative fuel vehicles.
If fuel taxes are replaced with an alternative funding source, such as fees based on vehicle miles, in 2015 at an initially revenue-neutral rate, receipts will increase by 33 percent over the same period, according to the bill. It will grow from $36 billion to $47 billion.
“It is safe to say everyone on the committee agrees we need to find other funding sources for our highway system,” said Delegate Dave Evans, R-Marshall). “On the other hand, many committee members as well as constituents I contacted do not want a tracking device installed in their cars.”
Howell said that Oregon was considering a similar bill and that it was “vehemently opposed.”