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WV House votes to park Courtesy Patrol

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, holds up a smart phone while speaking in support of a bill to eliminate the highway Courtesy Patrol during the House floor session Tuesday. He said the patrol no longer is needed, because travelers carry cellphones, which can be used to call for help in emergencies.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
At the end of Tuesday’s floor session, Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, shakes a can with coins inside it, saying the Legislature needs to stop kicking the can down the road and solve West Virginia’s budget challenge.

The latest attempt by the West Virginia Legislature to eliminate the state highways Courtesy Patrol passed the House of Delegates on a 58-41 vote Tuesday.

A longtime target of legislative audits and previous attempts to eliminate what is currently a $5 million appropriation from the Division of Highways budget, the House advanced the latest proposal to eliminate the Courtesy Patrol (HB 2007), over objections from delegates who said the bill would put people out of work and would inconvenience travelers in the state.

“We cannot fill our budget hole by just simply cutting the small amount the Courtesy Patrol will save,” said Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, who said the legislation would put 90 employees out of work, including 12 positions in the patrol’s dispatch center, located in the economically distressed town of Welch.

“I look at the cost a different way,” Evans added. “It’s going to cost families their health insurance, and it’s going to cost them their livelihoods.”

Evans said critics of the Courtesy Patrol over the years have cited the high salaries paid to executives of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the nonprofit that operates the patrol.

“Yeah, a lot of money they make, up in the hundreds of thousands ... but we’re not going to fire them,” he said.

According to the latest IRS 990 filing, Robert Martin, the CEO of the CCC, had a salary of $280,313, while the next highest-paid executive, CFO Jennifer Douglas, had a salary of $121,250.

The CCC, according to the 990, had total revenue of $4.5 million, $3.75 million of which was funding for the Courtesy Patrol.

Delegates John Kelly, R-Wood, and Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, both cited the service the patrol provides in assisting motorists whose vehicles are disabled in remote areas of the state.

“I don’t think you can put a dollar value on that,” said Boggs, who said he thinks the bill goes too far in eliminating the Courtesy Patrol outright, rather than simply eliminating state funding for the program.

Previously, there have been discussions about having corporate sponsors underwrite the costs of the Courtesy Patrol, as is done in some other states, but nothing has come of it.

Other delegates argued that the Courtesy Patrol is an anachronism in an era of cellphones, particularly when many drivers have roadside assistance through AAA or their auto insurance coverage.

“I don’t know why I would call the Courtesy Patrol when I could call someone who could actually help,” said Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley.

The patrols operate daily from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. on 25 routes around the state, providing assistance such as changing flat tires or providing gasoline. Frequently, the patrols stay with travelers until tow trucks arrive.

The Courtesy Patrol was started in 1979, and then disbanded in 1983. It was revived in 1989 by then-Gov. Cecil Underwood as a welfare-to-work program.

“What is the role of government? Is our role as state government to provide roadside assistance to travelers?” asked Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, the lead sponsor of the bill.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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

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