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Lawmakers plan agenda

December 31, 2012
Morning Journal News

WHEELING - West Virginia lawmakers expect to tackle highways and education when they convene for their 2013 legislative session in February.

"In 2013, we're going to have to be focused on infrastructure - it didn't happen in 2012," said Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio. "We have to take care of roads all over the state."

Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke, noted in some of the more rural and mountainous areas of West Virginia, the cost to construct a highway can be as much as $1 million a mile. Legislators need to look at ways to generate more revenue for West Virginia as gasoline tax collections - which fund the state's highway system - have decreased, he said.

"There has been a decline because people are driving more economically," Yost said. "The income is declining, and the revenue to repair and maintain the state's highways is going up."

Yost does not support such a tax increase.

"It all comes back to people paying more money - but no time is a good time to raise taxes," Yost said. "The revenue is going to have to come from somewhere? But to raise the gasoline tax? I don't think that's the answer."

In September, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed members of the West Virginia Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, which must report its findings back to the governor before Feb. 1. The 2013 legislative session begins Feb. 13. Among the committee's members is Don Rigby, executive director of the Regional Economic Development Partnership in Wheeling.

Also to be addressed this session will be the results of the Governor's Education Efficiency Audit, and how to improve the state's education system.

Among those recently named to the panel was Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock.

"I'm excited to see what kind of education (changes) are coming up," Storch said. "Hopefully, the Legislature will follow through with some of the recommendations in the audit and be productive."

Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, said he believes the Legislature had a good year in 2012. He noted lawmakers passed legislation to solve Other Post-Employment Benefits liabilities for state employees, and the state's food tax - now at 1 percent - will be completely eliminated by July 1.

"Of course, I'd like to see more local jobs in the oil and gas industry," Ferro said. "Hopefully we will be able to get our folks working in these jobs that have living wages and benefits."

Delegate David Pethtel, D-Wetzel, said the Legislature in 2012 passed a law making texting while driving a primary offense, and talking on a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle a secondary offense. After July 1, talking on a cell phone while driving becomes a primary offense.

"I think that's real important," Pethtel said. "That will make driving on highways much safer."



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