Gov. Justice to create task force for road projects

Questions why one county voted against bond call

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice on Monday pledged to create a task force to oversee West Virginia’s $1.6 billion in road bond projects and said he would travel to Ritchie County to see why voters there opposed the bond call.

Justice made the remarks during a press conference Monday morning at the state Capitol in Charleston. The $1.6 billion in road bonds will be used to begin or complete about 600 infrastructure projects throughout the state, and proponents have said those projects will generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue in addition to repairing roads and bridges throughout West Virginia.

Voters Saturday approved the road bonds 73 percent to 27 percent.

“Saturday night for West Virginia may be the first time in its existence it tasted winning, and it tastes good,” Justice said. “We’ve been conditioned to taste losing, but this is an opportunity for jobs, an opportunity for revenue, an opportunity to bring people to our state. That’s what winning tastes like.”

Justice called the win “historic” and said in many counties the bond passed by greater than 73 percent, including McDowell County which saw an approval rate of 94 percent.

Justice, however, did not mention the dismally low voter turnout, which showed only about 10 percent of West Virginia voters came to the polls. In some areas of the state, voter turnout was less than 2 percent.

Justice said the road bond plan was first brought to the public during his first State of the State Address, but he spent months trying to convince lawmakers and voters to give it a chance.

“There is not an egotistical bone in my body,” he said, but “there comes a time when you have to tell people ‘This is what we did. This is what I did.'”

Justice did note only one of the state’s 55 counties — Ritchie County — did not pass the bond. In Ritchie, voters split with 364 in favor and 419 against.

Justice illustrated the vote with a map of West Virginia which showed all other counties in a mix of blue and gold, the colors of West Virginia University, but left Ritchie County blank.

“I don’t know what is going on in Ritchie,” Justice said, “but I’m going to go there and find out.”

Justice indicated the split vote may have been due to “a ringleader that is spewing out some junk that everyone bought into,” but gave no indication who, and added “there are good people” in Ritchie County who need and deserve help.

“To the naysayers, if I lost the game 54 to 1, I’d listen to what people are saying,” Justice said.

Justice also announced he would create a task force to monitor contractors working on roads projects to make sure they were paying all of the necessary taxes and fees. Opponents of the road bond had questioned whether jobs would go to West Virginia Workers and companies and whether out-of-state companies would truly be held accountable for the money they owe the state.

“We’re going to monitor like crazy,” he said. “We’re going to put a true task force in place immediately to monitor that the contractors are paying their rightful share and what they owe in regard to their taxes.”

Justice also said he would begin working with technical and community colleges throughout the state “to amp up their ability to put out qualified workers.” He said he would work with the state Legislature and members of his administration to do what “we can legally do to ensure as many West Virginians as possible get these jobs.”

Justice indicated Saturday’s victory could lead to new federal funds. Throughout the campaign for the bond call, Justice repeatedly referred to his friendship and good working relationship with President Donald Trump, a Republican. Justice, who was elected as a Democrat, changed his party affiliation about two months ago.

“I’ve not talked directly to the president since this,” bond call passed, Justice said, “but I promise you that they are watching us and we’ve been heard.”

COMMENTS