The most difficult decision that routinely confronts our elected officials in state government — whether they be legislators or members of the executive branch — is how to convince voters to accept sufficient tax levels to support the degree of financial support needed to maintain necessary services to West Virginia residents.
Currently, the critical issue is how much existing taxes and fees need to be increased to provide the funding needed.
Surprisingly, members of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, after weeks of meetings around the state during the summer, believe they have found a way to come up with $1.1 billion in funding for state roads without raising taxes.
Members of the Blue Ribbon Commission have endorsed increased fees in the Division of Motor Vehicles by $77.4 million a year and the creation of a $200 annual registration fee for alternative fuel vehicles along with higher tolls on the turnpike. Current plans for tolls on the turnpike to end in 2019 would also be extended.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Republican leaders in both houses of the Legislature made it clear last week they find little support for increases in various fees along with higher tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike. Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, and House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, both said they don’t believe West Virginia residents are likely to accept new fees and increased tolls on the 88-mile turnpike.
Armstead said it makes no difference whether it is an increased fee or a higher tax because either way “it’s money they don’t have to put food on their table.
I think there are ways we can do that without placing a new tax burden on our citizens.” He also noted that the Legislature passed a bill in 2011 to increase DMV fees by $43 million a year.
But Gov. Tomblin vetoed that legislation, arguing that it would place too much of a burden on West Virginia taxpayers.
Sen. Hall said that veto “left a bad taste in many lawmakers’ mouths” because they had taken a political risk by passing those increases only to have the governor “strike it down” so they would unlikely be willing to support similar legislation again. Both he and Armstead believe the commission’s recommendations will probably face a difficult time surviving the legislative process.
But Jason Pizatella, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Highways Commission, claims the recommendations have received “significant” public support, based on the meetings the Commission conducted throughout the state. He said speakers made it clear they had no appetite for tax increases but there were indications that some of the “alternative methods” could gain some support.
The commission received 1,400 responses to a public opinion survey and less than half of those responses favored tax increases. But 78 percent of those responding did support continuing tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike past the current date of 2019 when the tolls are supposed to be eliminated — a move that would continue to have out-of-state drivers using the turnpike pay 75 percent of those toll receipts.
Meanwhile, one of the more ingenious efforts to combat the every increasing proliferation of illegal drug labs occurred in Lincoln County earlier this month when law enforcement officers used a borrowed church bus to descend on operators of a methamphetamine lab on Little Harts Road, located about two miles off W.Va. 10 in Harts.
J. J. Napier, chief deputy for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, told a reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail that he “orchestrated the whole thing.” He said law enforcement officials had been receiving tips about drug activity in that area for some time but “when we went in cruisers they knew we were coming.”
So he decided to borrow a church bus from Chris Wilkerson, chief of police for the Hamlin Police Department and also mayor of Hamlin. More importantly, Wilkerson is also pastor of Morning Star Church which has a church bus. Wilkerson agreed to let law enforcement officials use that bus.
A total of nine law enforcement officers were on the bus including state police, Hamlin city officers and members of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department. They totally surprised individuals operating two active meth labs and three people were arrested and taken to the Western regional jail.
Finally, it seems silly but the city of Sistersville, located in Tyler County, still has a city charter that prohibits women from voting in the municipal elections there.
But the new mayor of this town that boasts a population of less than 2,000 people is a woman. Needless to say, Mayor Ann Doig, who was just appointed last week to succeed former Mayor Davis Fox after he resigned midway through his fourth term, said one of her first tasks will be to change the charter — even though it will be expensive.
Former Mayor Fox gave up the job to move to Wheeling to be closer to his wife’s place of employment. Mayor Doig told the Parkersburg newspaper that the city’s current charter has “some silly stuff.” She also said the city’s attorney has told the members of City Council that it can’t go against the Constitution.
So she is certain she will be able to continue to serve until the next municipal election there in March of 2014. Her efforts to change the city charter may take a little longer.