Latest News

Statehouse Beat: No movement on highways funding  

Publication: WV Gazette-Mail
Release Date: August 01 2015

By Phil Kabler

In the past, the Legislature has met monthly in the off-season to get updated on issues that are likely to come up in the next legislative session. This year, legislators are taking a summer-long siesta, so we’ll carry on without them to periodically gauge where we stand with key issues pending:

Highways funding. Release of the final version of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways report in May was greeted about as enthusiastically as the release of the preliminary document in September 2013.

While most agree that state roads are in seriously bad shape because of underfunding, increasing fees, taxes and Turnpike tolls is a tough sell in an election year. (It probably won’t help that in 2011, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill to raise DMV fees by $40 million a year to raise revenue for the Road Fund.)

A meeting earlier this month between Tomblin, Senate President Bill Cole, and House Speaker Tim Armstead on highways funding was inconclusive, and while additional meetings are planned, none has been scheduled.

“We’re trying to coordinate schedules to get together again,” Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said. “They’re three busy men.”

That doesn’t sound like negotiations are exactly homing in on a workable funding plan.

Meanwhile, for those convinced that the state can go a long way toward closing the billion-dollar revenue gap for Highways by eliminating waste, the Legislature is about to finalize a $540,000 contract with Deliotte and Touche for a performance audit of the division.

Between now and Dec. 31, the firm is to conduct “an independent assessment of the DoH’s organizational structure, programs and operations, and determine whether they are operating effectively and efficiently in carrying out the mission of the DoH.”

Sounds a little bit like the Public Works LLC audit commissioned by then-Gov. Joe Manchin in 2005, which (according to the administration) found more than $48 million of savings, famously including $1 million a year of savings by recalibrating Highways’ salt spreaders.

My hunch is the new audit will find enough savings to cover its cost, but nowhere near enough to make a dent in the enormous funding shortfall.


The $3.04 million contract to enhance Capitol Complex perimeter security – including installing a wall and security fence around the governor’s mansion and converting most of the two parking lots north of the Culture Center into a bus turnaround – was formally awarded Friday afternoon to Wiseman Construction of Charleston.

Let the complaints about the fence, lost parking, tree removal officially begin!


Finally, regarding efforts by the West Virginia Commission on Presidential Debates to leverage the historic Kennedy-Humphrey debate as a way to help bring one of the 2016 presidential debates to Charleston, reference to a Gazette review calling the 1960 televised debate a “boring gabfest” caught the attention of the Gazette-Mail newsroom.

Naturally, longtime editor Jim Haught, who was a reporter at the time, was asked if he was the author of the commentary, which he suggested it sounded more like the work of L.T. Anderson.

Actually, it was written by George Lawless, who was the Gazetteer of the era, the title for the Gazette’s humor columnist, a distinction that was later passed on to Jim Dent and Terry Marchal. (The tradition is carried on these days [sans title] by Rick Steelhammer.)

In today’s terms, Lawless’ review might be described as snarky: “After the program –which rambled from coal mines to out(ter) space—oozed to its conclusion, there was visable [sic] disappointment along press row. Reporters were silently cheering for blood; they got strawberry ice cream instead. ‘I’ve talked worse than that to my publisher,’ one news-hawk jeered.”

Lawless also noted that JFK’s nameplate was prominent on-screen, which he speculated was necessary so the cameraman would not confuse Harvard-man Kennedy with “Yale-man W. E. Chilton, who spelled out questions sent in by Gazette readers.”

West Virginia State University history professor Billy Joe Peyton reminded me that those articles and more can be found at an excellent online exhibit, “Battleground West Virginia: Electing the President in 1960” at the Division of Culture and History’s website. (Peyton’s students researched the timeline of campaign stops for both candidates featured in the exhibit.)

I commented to Dr. Peyton that there seemed to be very little statewide newspaper coverage of the debate, and none mentioned its historical nature as one of the first-ever televised debates among presidential hopefuls.

I said it reminded me of newspaper accounts of Jackie Robinson’s first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In the New York Times game day story, for instance, Robinson was not mentioned until two-thirds through the article, with no acknowledgment that he had broken baseball’s color barrier.

As Peyton noted, it sometimes takes the perspective of time to appreciate historic events.

fixourroadswvStatehouse Beat: No movement on highways funding