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WV road bond campaign nears finish (Charleston Gazette-Mail)

10/5/2017

By Phil Kabler | Charleston Gazette-Mail

As the campaign for the road bond referendum winds down, proponents of the Roads to Prosperity 2017 amendment are hopeful that a healthy turnout Saturday will help lead to passage of the $1.6 billion bond plan.

“At this point, we’re optimistic, but taking nothing for granted,” West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said Thursday. “In a low-turnout election, anything can happen.”

Roberts said he’s seen estimates for a 15 percent turnout for the bond referendum, a number that he said likely would be positive for passage.

“We think the higher that number goes, the more likely it passes,” he said.

The Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday posted statewide early and absentee voting at 37,534 ballots, a 3.07 percent voter turnout.

“It’s definitely a small number, for sure,” said Steven Adams, spokesman for Secretary of State Mac Warner. “It goes without saying, it’s going to be low.”

“If everyone who says they’re supporting the bond issue votes, it will be a landslide in support of the amendment,” said Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia. “The key is, who will actually go out and vote on Saturday.”

Clowser is affiliated with West Virginians for Better Transportation, a coalition of contractors, labor and business interests, that has made print, television and radio ad buys promoting the road bond.

Opponents of the measure have relied on social media and, more recently, statements by far-right House Liberty Caucus members, including Delegates Mike Folk and Marshall Wilson, both R-Berkeley, the latter engaging Gov. Jim Justice in a heated exchange at a town hall meeting Tuesday in Martinsburg.

Folk has been distributing a one-page manifesto opposing the road bond, in part alleging that Justice is not trustworthy. Justice told the Martinsburg Journal that his personal attorneys might take action over Folk’s letter.

“I know that he [Folk] is not immune from prosecution, and he is insinuating some bad stuff there,” Justice was quoted as saying.

“My impression is that maybe Folk and Wilson got under his skin just a little bit in the Eastern Panhandle,” Roberts said.

Steve White, president of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, noted, “There’s definitely an undercurrent of opposition from a variety of factions.”

A key fear for proponents of the bond referendum is that the election becomes a referendum on Justice, not on the need to fund road construction.

While there has been debate about whether Justice’s appearances at what have become increasingly contentious town hall meetings are a plus or minus, Roberts commented, “I do not doubt the governor’s passion on this issue.”

Clowser said he believes a key to passing the bond amendment occurred back in June, when the Legislature approved about $140 million a year in new fees and taxes that will be dedicated to paying off the bonds.

“This is the first time in the history of road bond issues I’m aware of, dating back to 1927, that we have the debt repayment schedule already accounted for,” he said.

Roberts said his impression is that, as voters become more informed about the specifics of the bond amendment, their support for the referendum increases.

“It has taken some time for people to understand this is a program that involves every region of the state, and that most, if not all, of our major roadways will be improved as a result.”

Polls will be open Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.


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