Legislators discuss increase in gas tax for roads

CHARLESTON – Local state senators feel other options should be explored to raise money for state road construction and maintenance before considering raising the state’s gas tax.

State Senate President Jeff Kessler proposed the state look at a gas tax increase to fund projects for the road system. No bill has been introduced.

“Quite frankly, unless somebody has a better way, it’s going to have to be a gas tax, a user fee, or an allocation of general revenue money,” Kessler said.

Kessler said an increase in the gas tax might be the only way to address the depleted state road fund as a growing number of roads and bridges are in need of repair.

“Wherever it comes from, make no mistake about it, it’s about cold, hard cash,” he said.

Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, said he has been looking at roads for the last couple of years.

The state’s gas tax is almost the only funding to handle the maintenance and building of roads, he said. Cars are getting better mileage, but people are driving less because of higher gasoline prices, Nohe said.

There are secondary roads in such a need of repair that if something is not done soon, the roads will have to be removed and replaced, which Nohe is not sure how the state will pay for.

”No one wants to raise taxes,” he said.

A few years ago when the federal government was awarding stimulus money, Nohe felt that would have been the time to invest in the state’s roads, rather than fund projects that have not seen a lot of return on now, he said.

”We could have put that money to work for our roads,” he said.

However, now he is hoping natural gas development will provided the funding for roads before the state would resort to raising taxes.

Nohe hopes the projected economic boon from the development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposit will provide the state with revenue.

”That might give us funding we can then designate for road repairs and construction,” he said.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, does not believe a bill calling for a gas tax increase will be introduced this session.

”I don’t think anyone wants to increase the gas tax when gas is costing almost $4 a gallon,” she said.

With more efficient cars, the state does not get as much revenue as it used to through the gas tax, Boley said.

The state Blue Ribbon Committee is looking at options, including road bonds.

”They will be looking at other funding sources,” Boley said. ”They will be looking for a different way.”

Boley brought up initial proposals being considered to use Marcellus Shale revenues for roadwork and health care funding.

She doubts a bill will be introduced this session to raise the gas tax. She believes the issue might be dealt with during a special session of the Legislature that might be called this summer or fall.

”There will be more of a discussion on this during a special session,” Boley said. ”The state needs the money, but no one has decided anything yet.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)