Rough Road

Justice’s plan may well be costly

The kind of shell game Gov. Jim Justice is engaged in as he tries to convince West Virginians prior to the 2020 election that he is repairing “the damn roads” may fill in some potholes and correct a few slips — but at what cost?

Justice said last week he has a strategy to come up with $240 million for repairs to secondary roads. Many of them are in deplorable, sometimes dangerous shape. He cited three sources of money for the campaign.

Consider the potential ramifications of using those sources:

• Some money will be diverted from the “Roads to Prosperity” construction initiative, funded by bonds approved by voters in 2017. How can the hundreds of projects promised by Justice under “Roads to Prosperity” not be affected adversely by pulling money out of the bond fund?

• Justice wants to take some money out of a fund established to pay interest on “Roads to Prosperity” bonds. “We have earmarked taxes to pay debt service, but we don’t have the debt service yet because we’ve not put out the bonds,” the governor said.

Actually, that is not true. State officials announced last year they had sold $913 million in bonds.

What happens when money is needed to make payments on those bonds and more to be sold in the future? Will the cash have to come out of the general revenue budget, resulting in cuts to other state services?

• Finally, Justice says some money for secondary roads can be taken from the budget surplus expected at the end of the current fiscal year, June 30. But eight months into Fiscal 2019, the surplus totaled just $53 million — and some of that already has been earmarked for other purposes.

Much of the $240 million will have to come out of the “Roads to Prosperity” program directly or indirectly. That initiative was intended to correct long-term highway and bridge concerns, not fix potholes that will need repaired again in a year or two.

Justice understands that unless he does something dramatic about deteriorating highways, his reelection bid next year will be hampered severely. But placating voters during the next year or so at the cost of creating new problems — for both transportation infrastructure and state finances — in the longer run may be a bumpy road indeed for West Virginians.