Justice makes 1 last stop to support road bond

Governor-elect Jim Justice, left, is greeted by Major General James Hoyer as he arrives to deliver the keynote address for the West Virginia Economic Recovery Summit on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, at Marshall University's Brad D. Smith Foundation Hall in Huntington, W.Va. (Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP)

By MICHAEL VIRTANEN, Associated Press
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Touting the promise of new jobs, Gov. Jim Justice ended his roadshow on behalf of West Virginia’s $1.6 billion bond referendum Friday with a final stop in Bluefield and a Capitol press conference before Saturday’s statewide referendum.
Justice has traveled around the state to talk to residents about the sweeping highway program. Based on one economic formula on infrastructure spending, the program should add tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs to the state economy, he said.
The first-term governor has argued repeatedly against suspicions that taxes would increase further, saying the higher gasoline tax and motor vehicle fees enacted earlier this year are sufficient for bond repayments. With federal matching funds, he says the state could spend more to fix crumbling infrastructure.
“This is the only place you can create an immediate job,” he said Friday. He promised to use whatever provisions are available under state law to ensure qualified West Virginians are hired.
West Virginia’s initial list has more than 600 planned projects, some in every county, to repair roads and bridges and build some new ones.
“Everybody knows you’ve got to have good roads,” Justice said. “All the funding is already in place.”
The West Virginia Republican Party Executive Committee has come out against the bonding, saying it would commit the state to 25 years of bond interest payments.
The referendum commits the Legislature to providing sufficient state taxes to pay the principal and interest that may accrue for the 25-year term of bonding.
Counting early voting that began Sept. 22 and absentee ballots, 37,534 ballots have been cast, according to the secretary of state. That’s about 3 percent of West Virginia’s 1.2 million registered voters.
Results from 1,851 precincts will be compiled by the secretary’s Elections Division after polls close at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We encourage the people to use the power of the ballot box and let their voices be heard,” Secretary of State Mac Warner said. “This is a significant issue and there are two sides to it. We need to hear from the people.”
The results, both overall and by county, will be available online in real-time at www.wvsos.com after the polls close, according to Warner’s office.
The Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year approved the taxes and fees, which Justice signed into law and are already in effect. They raised the variable minimum wholesale gas tax by 3.5 cents a gallon, increased the vehicle sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent and hiked the motor vehicle registration fee from $30 to $50.
Legislators also voted to hold the bond referendum.