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Gas Prices Could Cause W.Va. Road Funding Problems

Fri June 06, 2008 - Northeast Edition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) With gas prices climbing to ever-dizzier heights, plenty of motorists and politicians have been eyeing the government’s share as a possible remedy to drive the cost down.

But residents may be paying less than they think in state taxes, and one group has designed a method to check.

West Virginia drivers can now log onto to calculate their daily, weekly, monthly and yearly state gasoline tax bill.

Someone who drives 50 miles a day with a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon, for example, spends about 63 cents a day on the gas tax, or just under $230 a year.

West Virginians for Better Transportation, which has created the site, said it hopes people will learn they spend less than they think on taxes.

“You see all these huge run-ups in the price of gas, but the tax is relatively low,’’ said group chairman Joe Deneault.

The group worries that high prices are keeping people off the road, which means lower tax revenues. The problem is that the state Road Fund, which pays for maintenance, paving and repairs on state roads and bridges, relies on gas taxes for about 60 percent of its revenue.

“There’s no question that if this trend continues, at some point it will have an affect on the state road fund,’’ said Danny Ellis, business manager for the state Division of Highways.

The division projected it would collect about $400 million from the gas tax by the end of the current fiscal year. With one month to go, Ellis said collections are down about $3 million.

That may not be a problem in the short term, but if people continue to reduce their driving, the state may face problems in how it pays for crucial infrastructure maintenance.

And that’s just maintenance: the state has a priority list of new highway construction projects with cost estimates running to $25 billion.

“We’re continuing to monitor the situation, and we’ll adjust accordingly, just like people are adjusting in their homes,’’ said Lara Ramsburg, spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin.

Even if gas prices notch downward, the long-term trend is not only for a price increase, but for the sale of more fuel-efficient cars, which would also mean less gas tax revenue.

“We have to find a way to fund road maintenance and construction in the long term, without always going from boom to bust,’’ Deneault said.

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