Some observations on taxes, bonds and highways

Editor of The Weston Democrat and Voters of Lewis County:

We are writing concerning the article in the September 13 Weston Democrat concerning Governor Justice’s proposed $2.6 Billion Roads Bond Referendum and the included information on Corridor H.
First, we all know that West Virginia’s highways, bridges, and other infrastructure are in great need of repair, replacement, and upkeep. We also all know that our legislators and Governors of late have not had much success balancing a budget and paying our bills, let alone keeping up with infrastructure needs.
Here are a few facts to keep in mind when you decide how to vote on the referendum.
One: over 10 years ago West Virginia started cutting taxes, fees, and regulations on businesses with the promise that such cuts would spur economic growth and prosperity. Corporations saw their net income tax decrease by about 28 percent, from 9 percent to 6.5 percent. The Result? Fewer jobs and a huge budget deficit. How has our state legislature reacted to that? They have proposed more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and they have drastically cut essential governmental services, such as education, health and safety, environmental protection, regulation of industry, protection for workers, support of landowners and resource managers, nutrition programs, and others. Somebody has saved a bunch of money on taxes and fees.  Most West Virginians have been harmed. How many of you working and middle class voters have seen your taxes and fees go down? Right!
Two: The 2017 Legislative Session saw our legislators and Governor unable – again - to come up with a way to fix the budget woes. They did however vote for some tax and fee increases to go towards fixing our highways. They raised the “Privilege Tax” for owning a vehicle from 5 percent to 6 percent, a 20 percent increase in that tax. They changed the gas tax formula to the effect of an average of 3.5 cents increase per gallon. They raised the vehicle registration fees from $28.50 to $50.00 /year, for a 79 percent increase in that fee. They doubled the annual inspection fee from $5.00 to $10.00. Then they decided to add special taxes on energy efficient or eco-friendly vehicles by imposing a $200 annual fee on Natural Gas, Electric, and Hydrogen fueled vehicles. For hybrid (gas/electric) vehicles they imposed a $100 annual fee. They also gave our Parkways Authority greater latitude in raising and expanding tolls on WV highways. So, how many of you voters have seen an increase in your taxes and fees? How many of you have seen your cost of owning and operating a vehicle to get to work and to carry on your daily activities increase? Right again!
Now, on to the proposed $2.6 Billion Bond Referendum. Governor Justice and the bond boosters claim that the bond will be totally repaid without adding any new taxes or fees or increases to existing taxes and fees.  They claim that, in the future, taxpayers will not be burdened by having to pay off the bond. Do any of you actually believe that? Do any of you remember a bond issue that did not end up costing you money? Right! We predict that, in the not too distant future, you will see increased fees and taxes and/or decreases in essential services in order to pay off the bond. You will pay for it!
We do not want to tell you how to vote on the bond referendum. We do want to urge you to be skeptical of the claims made for the bond and the supposed benefits and costs to come. Do some homework and decide if you think the costs will be justified by the benefits. Think about how well our government leaders have managed our economy and state budget. Then decide how you will vote.
Finally, a word about Corridor H. This project has been in the works now for about half a century. Corridor H has never made sense economically or environmentally. If the Cost/Benefit ratio had been at all decent, Corridor H would have been completed decades ago. If Senator Byrd could not push Corridor H through in his lifetime, and we all know how effective Bob Byrd was in getting Federal money for West Virginia, then you know that it must have been a real stinker from the start. While Corridor H will likely be completed someday, you can rest assured that the benefits for the vast majority of you will pale in comparison of the tremendous economic, social, and environmental costs.

Tom and Becky Berlin

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