One of the hardest winters in decades is about to come to a close - we hope. In its wake will be left hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles of badly damaged roads in West Virginia.
Mountain State residents are accustomed to annual spring crops of potholes. They are an inevitable result of snowfalls and the salt and other substances used on roads, along with cycles of freezing and thawing.
Again, however, this year will be worse. The state Division of Highways budget simply does not include enough money to handle road repairs that will be needed this spring.
State legislators certainly have had full plates during their regular session this year. But, as one state senator, Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, warned this week, highway repairs should be viewed as a priority. The spring paving season is approaching rapidly and, as matters stand, the DOH will require an infusion of money to deal with the ravages of winter.
Just two weeks remain in the legislative session, so it may not be possible to act on the matter before adjournment on March 8. But lawmakers traditionally remain in Charleston for a few days beyond that, to enact a state budget for the subsequent fiscal year. In his call for a special session for that purpose, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin could add consideration of road funding.
Unfortunately, the state's general fund is all but broke. Revenue collections have lagged tens of millions of dollars behind commitments for spending. Where to find the money for road repairs?
No problem. West Virginia's "rainy day" fund was established years ago to create a budget reserve for use in meeting emergencies. The fund (actually two separate accounts) contains about $1 billion.
Again, the program was established for situations just such as that the state faces now - unexpected needs for money, perhaps as a result of natural disasters. The "rainy day" fund was tailor-made for times like now, when additional funding is needed critically for highway repairs.
Tomblin and legislators should discuss the issue with DOH officials, to determine how much supplemental funding is needed. Then, within reason, they should dip into the "rainy day" fund to get the money. In the meantime, assuming more winter storms do not occupy their energies, DOH engineers should be planning a program of pothole patching and repaving to begin as soon as possible.