CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s Road Fund collection in April came in more than $38 million over estimates — but only because federal payments of $83.67 million were more than three times larger than expected, state Budget Office documents show.
The state’s contribution to the Road Fund — mainly from fuel taxes, privilege taxes on vehicle sales and vehicle registration fees — came up nearly $20 million, or 27%, short for the month.
Overall, the government took in $52.67 million for the month, missing the estimate of $72.55 million.
A portion of those funds is used to pay off about $1.6 billion in road bonds sold under Gov. Jim Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program. It was not clear Wednesday at what point a prolonged shortfall in Road Fund collection would affect the schedule for repaying those bonds.
For April, the biggest percentage drop in revenue was in vehicle registration fees, which took in $1.618 million, or only 17% of the $9.45 million estimate for the month, and only 14% of the $11.026 million raised in April 2019.
On March 26, the Division of Motor Vehicles announced that it was extending the expiration dates for driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations by 90 days because of the closure of DMV offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Privilege taxes — the sales tax on motor vehicle sales — brought in $14.87 million for April, which amounted to 67% of the $22.26 million estimate for the month, and 66% of the April 2019 collection of $22.63 million.
According to consumer researcher J.D. Power and Associates, retail motor vehicle sales nationally fell nearly 40% in April.
The other major revenue source for the Road Fund, the state fuel tax, missed estimates by about 10% in April. April collection of $35.66 million came in $4.14 million below estimate, and $3.54 million below the April 2019 collection.
Overall, the Road Fund took in a total of $136.33 million for April, which was $38.45 million, or 39%, above the estimate of $97.88 million. That was because the federal Highways Fund reimbursement of $83.67 million was $58.28 million more than the $25.39 million payment expected for the month.
In 2017, the West Virginia Legislature passed a measure raising the state gas tax by 4.5 cents a gallon to 25 cents a gallon, raising vehicle registration fees from $28.50 to $50 a year, and raising the privilege tax on vehicle sales from 5% to 6%.
Those hikes were projected to raise about $140 million a year to pay down $1.6 billion in road bonds sold under Justice’s Roads to Prosperity plan. Brent Walker, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, did not respond to a request for comment on the downturn of state Road Fund collection.
The drop in state Road Fund collection in April appears consistent with general revenue tax collection for the month, which fell 33% short of estimates as a result of the economic slowdown caused by pandemic-related business closures and stay-at-home orders.
Overall revenue collection of $388.53 million was $192.27 million short of estimates for the month.