Statehouse Primer
Indiana, West Virginia lawmakers earn 'razzberries' for bad proposals

By Mike Matousek, OOIDA Director of government affairs

State legislative proposals to fund respective roads and bridges can vary quite a bit. In some cases lawmakers pursue modest increases to the state diesel tax. In other cases lawmakers pursue significant increases in the state diesel tax, expanded tolling authority, truck-specific “transportation improvement” taxes, increases in registration fees, and virtually any other means for generating additional revenue.

To steal a page from Land Line’s and Land Line Now’s “Roses and Razzberries” playbook, it is time to hand out some razzberries to lawmakers in Indiana and West Virginia. Not to all state lawmakers – just those who supported, or who will eventually support, two very bad transportation funding proposals.

In Indiana, HB1002 was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 24. It was supported by 37 members of the Indiana Senate and 69 members of the Indiana House. Gov. Holcomb and the 106 state lawmakers who voted for the bill are receiving a razzberry. Here’s why:

  • The new law removes what little oversight the legislature had regarding toll roads. In effect, the legislature is washing its hands of any oversight and accountability whereby all major tolling decisions will be determined by the governor and unelected government officials;
  • It encourages the state to request a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration to toll existing roads and bridges. To be clear, the state wants to toll infrastructure that has already been paid for by taxpayer dollars;
  • It creates a weigh-in-motion pilot program to privatize certain aspects of commercial motor vehicle enforcement. We believe this is nothing more than enforcement for profit that will eliminate due process protections and is a strong deterrent for law-abiding motor carriers to operate in Indiana; and
  • It increases the state diesel tax, the state excise tax, and IRP fees.

Collectively, this is one of the worst transportation funding packages we have seen. Apparently state lawmakers have forgotten (perhaps selectively) about the Indiana Toll Road disaster. Rather than learn from their mistakes, the state is bound to repeat them.

In West Virginia, state lawmakers are considering a transportation funding proposal promoted by Gov. Jim Justice, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, and House Minority Leader Timothy Miley. SB1003 passed the Senate on May 24, with 26 voting in favor. The House version, HB103, is pending consideration in the House.

Gov. Justice, Carmichael, Miley, and other West Virginia lawmakers who are considering voting for this proposal are deserving of razzberries. Here’s why:

  • It would authorize the West Virginia Parkways Authority to issue parkway revenue bonds to fund non-parkway public highways and bridges;
  • It would give WVPA significant new authority to increase toll rates while simultaneously weakening local oversight and public input;
  • It would authorize WVPA to establish a single-fee program and commuter pass system for passenger motor vehicles but prohibit commercial trucks from participating in both;
  • It would authorize WVPA to enter into toll agreements with adjacent states pursuant to a reciprocal toll enforcement agreement (i.e. tolling roads and bridges in coordination with surrounding states);
  • It would establish a “State Road Construction Account” supported by parkway revenue with priority of the expenditure of such funds to four counties within the state (another form of revenue diversion); and
  • It would repeal an existing “Cessation of Tolls” provision.

In short, this proposal would expand the state’s tolling authority, provide financial relief for passenger vehicles but not commercial trucks, divert parkway revenue to non-parkway projects, statutorily deem some counties more deserving than others, weaken public input, and ensure that toll roads would become a permanent fixture of West Virginia transportation funding and policy.

As we have mentioned before, OOIDA is generally supportive of equitable investments in transportation infrastructure. Transportation projects that enhance safety, reduce congestion, and improve operational efficiency are good for the trucking industry, the motoring public, and consumers. However, there is absolutely nothing equitable about Indiana’s new law, or West Virginia’s proposal. LL