Let’s talk facts about the Justice Road Bond. I’m going to be discussing the implications in this district (Ritchie and Pleasants), but if you live elsewhere in WV, I’ll provide links so you can see how it may affect your area.

What IS the Justice Road Bond?

Proponents of Justice’s proposed bond like to argue that it won’t raise taxes. That’s technically true… but that’s because they already raised taxes (that’s the gas tax, DMV fees, etc., that were raised this spring). Based on those raised taxes, Justice wants to borrow money against the future revenue.

That’s what the bond is.

As a reminder, our credit has been downgraded three times this year. That means interest will be higher. Worse, approving the bond will require the legislature to raise taxes again if the taxes they have already raised on us aren’t enough to pay the principal and interest of the bond:

‘The Legislature shall at the same time provide for the collection of an annual state tax…  Such taxes shall be levied in any year… payment of the interest on and the principal of said bonds becoming due and payable in such year are insufficient.”

These are just facts. Let’s list them all out: the good and the bad…

What will the road bond fund in Ritchie and Pleasants counties?

There are NO projects in Ritchie or Pleasants that will be funded by the road bond. None. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Here’s a list of projects that would be funded by the bond, if you’re from another county (or if you’re just curious).

So does that mean there would be no effect here if the bond fails?

No.

Even though there are no projects here that would be directly funded by the bond, Dep’t of Transportation secretary Smith has threatened, “If you are not able to fund some of those big projects from the bond proceeds then you are going to have to use your regular funding and fund the big projects that way and that will actually take away the resources that could have flowed to the other counties.”

So essentially what they’re saying is: “If Justice doesn’t get the bond, we might well take away funding for other projects.”

What projects in Ritchie and Pleasants are slated to use regular funding?

Here are the projects on the roster for Ritchie and Pleasants through regular funding:

  1. Ritchie Tanner Road PO Paving $175,000
  2. Ritchie North Penn Ave Resurfacing $100,000
  3. Ritchie Cairo – Cisco Road Resurfacing  $900,000
  4. Ritchie Replace DYE BRIDGE  $1,300,000
  5. Pleasants Cow Creek Resurfacing  $800,000
  6. Pleasants Schultz Resurfacing  $350,000
  7. Pleasants Federal Ridge Resurfacing  $400,000

There are additional “candidate” projects that are listed as possible, but not authorized at this time:

  1. Ritchie WV 16, WV 31, WV 74 Safety Improvements Corridor $1,500,000
  2. Ritchie WILSON BRIDGE (SSWB) Major Rehab $1,100,000
  3. Ritchie CAIRO PONY TRUSS (SSPT) Major Rehab $1,300,000
  4. Ritchie Slide Repair Repair  $500,000
  5. Ritchie NHS Pavement Reconstruction and Rehabilitation $2,132,000
  6. Ritchie Non-NHS Pavement Reconstruction and Rehabilitation  $1,340,000
  7. Pleasants OLD HI CARPENTER BRIDGE – H (SSTT) Major Rehab $1,300,000
  8. Pleasants Slide Repair Repair slide locations within county $500,000
  9. Pleasants NHS Pavement Reconstruction and Rehabilitation $1,780,000
  10. Pleasants Non-NHS Pavement Reconstruction and Rehabilitation $499,000

I wouldn’t expect the candidate projects to get funded in any case, because we’re so broke, but the projects in the top list there are actually on the slate to be completed this year, for sure, if the bond passes.

If it doesn’t pass, we’re not sure.

What else do I need to know about the bond?

Justice claims it will create 48,000 jobs.

It will certainly create a number jobs to do all that work, but how many is a legit question. And will the construction jobs go to West Virginians? He won’t guarantee that.

Frankly politicians and industry are always claiming this or that tax cut for corporations or wealthy people will create jobs, but the evidence shows that’s just often not the case. We give them the tax breaks, they don’t produce the jobs, so our response is “Obviously we need to give them more!”

Le sigh.

So forgive those who are skeptical of the scale he is touting. The bond will certainly create some jobs, even if we don’t know exactly how many, or how many WV workers will get them. According to Affiliated Construction Trades in WV, we’re more likely looking at 5K.

And hey, 5000 new jobs is good, let’s be clear! But let’s also be clear that 48K jobs goes beyond “spin.” It’s the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Since 5000 jobs is ALSO good news, why not stick to realistic estimates rather than made up numbers?

Do we need to make this investment in infrastructure?

Via this particular method? We’ll get to that after we finish listing out the facts.

But in general, infrastructure investment is a good thing. Our roads and bridges are in terrible condition. That causes a lot of wear and tear on cars, and there were some places in Ritchie where anecdotal stories on social media last year claimed school buses reportedly couldn’t reach anymore, so parents had to drive kids part of the way. (I was told they got reimbursed for mileage.) But remember—none of that money will come here, or to Pleasants.

Another issue is that having such a terrible infrastructure in place means it’s difficult to attract business here. Businesses would rather locate to areas with good infrastructure in place, and just beyond that it helps power a healthy economy. That WOULD benefit WV jobs.

But those are general statements that can apply to any infrastructure investment. What we want to decide here is whether or not the Justice Road Bond is the wisest way to make that investment.

Let’s Recap the Facts

The Justice Road Bond doesn’t directly fund anything in Ritchie or Pleasants, but Justice is threatening to eliminate some of the funding for other projects.

The Justice Road Bond doesn’t raise taxes directly, because taxes have already been raised. Instead, this would authorize us to borrow a large amount of money at interest based on the projected revenues of the raised taxes. It would also require the legislature to raise taxes again later if we don’t have enough money.

The Justice Road Bond will create some jobs, improve roads in some areas… and infrastructure investment is among the healthier investments we can make for our economy.

What do I think about Justice’s Road Bond… ?

Well, I’m generally supportive of infrastructure investment and want to see our country roads funded. But I’m not so happy with the way Justice has decided to raise money for it.

As I’ve discussed in detail before, “[F]reight trucks do about 99% of non-weather-related damage to roads. And they only pay for an average of 35% of maintenance costs. In fact, ‘One fully loaded 18-wheeler does the same damage to a road as 9600 cars.’ So nearly all of the road damage is being caused by corporations shipping goods over roads that we are paying for.”

So when Justice raises the particular taxes and fees he did in order to borrow to pay for the roads, that means regular people are continuing to pay a disproportionate amount of road maintenance when compared to the fracking trucks in our area that are doing the vast majority of the damage (and coal or lumber trucks in other areas). When we do that, we’re just raising taxes on regular people to fill corporate pockets.

That is NOT fiscally responsible.

And on top of that, regular working people would be saddled with our taxes paying back high interest for years and years, because—billionaire coal baron that he is—Justice is trying to balance the budget on the backs of other people, rather than on the corporations and super-wealthy people like himself that actually cause most of the damage.

Of course they want this bond; they are the beneficiaries.

My position on Justice’s road bond

I’m FOR infrastructure investment. We need that for jobs, among other things.

I don’t oppose bonds just on principle. I’d prefer not to have to borrow, of course, but due to past legislative inaction, I recognize that it’ll be difficult to get on the right track again.

But I AM against this particular bond, because it continues the self-same policies of balancing the budget on the backs of regular tax-payers, rather than having corporations and billionaires like Justice pay their fair share. It is not responsible to fund the roads in the way Justice is doing it.

Yes, this doesn’t raise taxes… because he already raised our taxes, as I explained above.

And look, to be clear, I don’t think it’s always inappropriate to raise taxes. For instance, the business tax cuts (“They’ll create jobs!” we were told by the rich guys) that the legislature handed out a few years ago helped put us in this budget mess, and should be rescinded. You have to pay for things like roads, schools, police, etc. But it’s irresponsible to essentially borrow against future taxes that you want regular working people to have to pay from now on.

And while this is beside the point, I’d just like to share this reminder: deadbeat Justice still owes taxes.

If you’d like to see my funding ideas, you can see them here in this post on how to solve the WV budget crisis.

Should YOU vote against the bond?

You’ve seen the facts. You’ve heard my perspective. You may have a different perspective when looking at the facts, and that’s okay.

I’m interested in hearing what you think, either way. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below, whether you agree or disagree with me.

Addendum 9/24:

Phil Kabler reports that Transportation Secretary Tom Smith is comparing the likely interest rate of the bonds to the rate of inflation, which would mean that a “project that costs $5 million this year will cost $5.225 million if you put it off until next year, and $5.46 million if you delay for two years….”

That IS a good argument. I actually love that they’re considering long term costs… but we also have to look at who is paying those costs and who is getting those benefits.

And Smith’s calculations don’t change that.

The fact remains that this is STILL a terribly regressive and unfair way to fund roads.

So if we approve the bond, using Secretary Smith’s numbers and his example of a 5 million dollar project, it’ll be regular people paying $3.25 million (65% of $5 million) this year.

But if we reject the bond and make sure the tax burden is more fairly distributed—in other words, if we make sure extraction barons like Jim Justice are paying their fair share, more proportional to the damage they do to roads—that would would mean the cost for regular folks for a $5 mil project would be only $1.8 million (if we pay 35% of $5.225 million) for next year, or $1.91 million if we put it off for two.

At 35%, for the $1.6 BILLION bond, regular people should be paying about $560 million of it when you consider where the most damage to the roads is coming from. Justice essentially wants to have regular folks subsidize the extraction industries to the tune of about a half a BILLION dollars or more. They can then put that in their pockets.

Yet again, WE are being asked to pay the costs, while someone else like Justice reaps all the benefits.