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Alternative revenue collection bill draws ire of WV House members

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A bill directing the Division of Highways to commission a study looking at alternative revenue sources for funding state roads caused some problems April 4 in the House Roads and Transportation Committee.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, made up of public and private individuals appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, has already been asked to conduct a $250,000 study looking into similar issues. That study has not yet been completed, leading several delegates to believe Senate Bill 354 is a bit premature. But Paul Mattox, commissioner of highways and secretary of the Department of Transportation, said the study mandated by the legislation looks at the longer term.

"It is simply just a study," he told committee members.

Mattox pointed out the fuel tax isn't generating the same revenue it once was.

How the state would collect information for the study was another bone of contention. Mattox said the state could use vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, to determine a tax motor vehicle users would pay, or GPS systems could be used to keep track of mileage. Delegate Linda Phillips, D-Wyoming, pointed out mileage is checked yearly when vehicles are inspected. Mattox conceded that could be yet another way the state keeps track of miles traveled.

Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said he's not a fan of SB 359 because he's not comfortable with the government using a GPS device on the vehicles of private residents. He also said the study is premature, costs too much and requires the commissioner of highways to prepare and present legislation.

"If you were worried about seat belt intrusion, this should cause you great concern when the government says they're going to study and put a GPS tracking device on your vehicle," Cowles said, referencing a bill that passed the House of Delegates last week that raises failure to wear a seat belt to a primary offense.

Other states are looking at alternative revenue sources as well, Mattox noted. Earlier this year, Virginia's General Assembly voted to do away with the gas tax and replace it with a variety of sales taxes. That has caused the price of gas to decrease, and Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said people who live in border counties have incentive to drive across state lines to fuel up. Shott introduced an amendment that would allow West Virginia to do something similar, if the study finds it is feasible. Shott's amendment was adopted.

Committee members were split evenly on whether to report the bill to the House floor. The motion to pass the bill was defeated. The bill passed the Senate earlier this week 24-10.