November 20, 2009
SPECIAL SESSION COMPLETED - HIGHWAY LEGISLATION PASSES
Legislators convened in Charleston this week for the fourth Special Session of 2009, addressing legislation aimed at keeping the Highway Trust Fund stable, among other items. The session, which was expected to last three days, was extended to four days because House Republicans prevented Democrats from suspending the rules on the gas tax bill. S.B. 4004, which passed the House by a vote of 64-23-12 on Friday morning, raises the wholesale gas tax rate calculation floor from .97 cents per gallon to $2.34 per gallon which keeps the tax from going below 11.7 cents per gallon and prevents a 1.7 cent reduction which would have cost the WVDOH $23 million next calendar year. The bill also caps any future increase or decrease in the wholesale gas tax to 10 percent of the wholesale gas price, providing additional stability to both consumers and the WVDOH. The bill also allows the transfer of the remaining $27 million allotted to the WVDOH by the WV Legislature when the highway revenues fall under estimates. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 31-2-1.
The issue causing the most discussion and debate was a provision in the bill which eliminates the 2013 expiration date of the “temporary” 5 cent tax component that began in 1993. House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, offered a motion Thursday that would keep the May 1, 2013 sunset provision on the nickel gas tax, arguing that this was a responsible thing to do and that removing the sunset was akin to a “gas tax increase on consumers.” The amendment was rejected 30-66. Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley, made a motion to eliminate the variable gas tax in its entirety, stating that there is enough money in the state’s general revenue budget to fund highways. House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, noted that the wholesale tax generates around $167 million annually and this money could never be made up through general fund dollars. The amendment was voted down by a large voice vote. The gas tax will now be a permanent 20.5 cents per gallon.
The CAWV provided information to legislators showing that the 1.7 cent per gallon reduction would save the average West Virginia motorist $14.50 annually. Conversely, motorists would be paying more in car and tire repairs if roads in the state continue to deteriorate. Commerce would also be affected if weight limits are posted on bridges, resulting in higher prices for consumer goods. While the passage of this bill does not provide any new money, it does stabilize the WVDOH’s funding next year and in years to come. Many delegates on the House Finance Committee, Democrats and Republicans, did make note that this is just a stop-gap measure for the state’s highway transportation system. All noted that the legislature must start working on a permanent funding mechanism to build and maintain roads and bridges. Members received a CAWV Legislative Alert November 20 detailing the aspects of the highway bill.
Nine other bills, including two supplemental appropriations bills, were sent to Gov. Manchin:
• S.B. 4007 - Allows cities to close critically underfunded police and firefighter pension plans to new members, putting new hires in a new pension plan administered by the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board, and setting up 40-year financing plans to pay down the deficits in the old plans.
• H.B. 406 - Uniformed Services and Overseas Voter Pilot Program
• S.B. 4001 - Clarifying certain records pertaining to pardons are not subject to expungement orders.
• S.B. 4002 - Enables West Virginia counties to use the federal allocation of recovery zone bonds authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
• S.B. 4003 - Relating to compliance of state retirement systems with certain provisions of IRS code.
• H.B. 408 - Relating to definitions and the tracking of credits awarded under the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act.
For further information, including the full text of the bills which passed, click here to visit the Legislature’s website.