Justice paints grim picture if road bond fails

WHEELING — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice says if a $1.6 billion road bond referendum doesn’t pass on Oct. 7, further financial cuts may have to be made — and racing greyhounds “are gone.”

He also hinted cuts to higher education funding could be in the future if voters reject his “Roads to Prosperity” constitutional amendment.

Early voting started Friday at county courthouses across West Virginia in a special election on a constitutional amendment to decide the road bond, and will continue each weekday and Saturday through Oct. 4.

During this year’s legislative session, Justice vetoed legislation that would have eliminated the West Virginia Greyhound Breeding Development Fund. Greyhound breeders lobbied agains the bill, asserting it would lead to the end of the greyhound racing industry in the state.

Abolishment of the payouts from the fund to the breeders was estimated to add $15 million annually to the state’s general fund.

Justice told those gathered for a town hall meeting in Wheeling this week his ideas for what might happen if the road bond referendum does not pass.

“If it doesn’t happen … one of things you can count on to happen that quick … the dogs are gone,” Justice said. “I saved the dogs. I won’t be able to do that again.”

There will have to be additional financial cuts without the road bond, he said, including to funding for the state’s colleges — perhaps placing the future of West Liberty University in doubt, he said.

“In addition, your road is going to stay just like it is,” he said.

The referendum will ask voters whether they will permit the West Virginia Legislature to authorize the sale of $1.6 billion in general obligation bonds over the next four years, and funds generated would be used to begin about $1.9 billion in highway improvements across the state.

The most expensive item on the list of proposed projects is a $172 million plan to rehabilitate the bridges on Interstate 70 in Ohio County.

Among other projects in the Northern Panhandle is an $80 million project to widen state Route 2 to four lanes between Proctor and Kent in Marshall and Wetzel counties. And in Hancock County, a proposed project would relocate and widen Route 2 through New Cumberland at a cost of $11 million.

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