- Associated Press - Thursday, July 20, 2017

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday that he’s considering recalling the West Virginia Legislature this year to again consider exempting veterans’ pensions from state income taxes and adding a 5 percent surcharge to highway contracts to fund addiction treatment.

“I’m going to look really, really hard about calling them back in soon,” Justice said.

He told The Associated Press that both measures are “no brainers” and that contractors were in agreement on the 5 percent fee on successful highway project bidders. That would have provided almost $150 million for treatment facilities, social workers and law enforcement to address West Virginia’s drug epidemic, he said.

“We have got a tremendous drug problem that we need to fix,” he said.

According to the governor, the tax exemption for veterans’ retirement income would cost about $3 million. “We just walked away from our vets,” he said.

Both measures were considered by the Legislature earlier this year but weren’t finally enacted as the governor and lawmakers pushed their respective tax and budget proposals.

Justice’s comments followed his appearance Thursday before state highway workers in Clarksburg to discuss his road reconstruction initiative that the Legislature did approve when it was called back into a special session to enact a budget.

The variable minimum wholesale gas tax was increased by law to 3.5 cents a gallon, the vehicle sales tax rose from 5 to 6 percent and the vehicle registration fee went up from $30 to $50.

Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said the increased taxes and fees supporting the projects, which will provide about $10 million a month, but none has dropped into the Division of Highways coffers yet.

“What we did is we found a way to move a whole lot of work forward … that was planned for other years,” Smith said. “The first three months of this program starting right now has let $350 million of work, roadway work, that would not have gotten started this year without the governor’s program.”

Smith said it will create thousands of immediate jobs. There will be work in every county of the state, ranging from secondary service roads to reconstructing Interstate 64 in Charleston, he said.

A highway bond issue for $230 million is scheduled for late October. In early October, voters are scheduled to vote on further highway bonding for $600 to $800 million that would follow next year.

Justice said it would be a great mistake for voters to reject it.

“All in the world you’re voting on is just one thing, and that is allowing us to put pieces that area already passed … into a bucket to be able to bond and then generate gigantic amounts of money to build our roads and to put people to work by the thousands,” he said.

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