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W.Va. Legislature session ends with MARC train bill passing

April 13, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A bill that would provide support for the operation of MARC commuter train service in the Eastern Panhandle passed Saturday by a 98-1 vote in the House of Delegates on the last day of the West Virginia Legislature’s 60-day session.

The state Senate later concurred with amendments the House made to Senate Bill 103, which now awaits consideration by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, according to an audio webcast streamed live on the Legislature’s website.

The bill creates a special fund in the state treasury and requires the state to negotiate agreements with Maryland or the Maryland Transit Administration for the continued operation of the service from Washington, D.C., into West Virginia.

“West Virginia has absolutely no say in the operation of the MARC train,” said Del. Larry D. Kump, R-Berkeley. “This bill would give us a seat at the table.”

Del. Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the train helps alleviate Jefferson County’s road transportation infrastructure, and noted that about 40 percent of the county’s workers leave the county for work.

Del. Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, said the legislation has been “a work in progress” for about the last five years, and thanked fellow lawmakers for working with members of the Eastern Panhandle delegation on the bill.

Del. Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, said the legislation was critical to the Eastern Panhandle, but also worth millions of dollars in economic impact for the state.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, said Friday he supported the House committee’s amendment because he believes a direct appropriation from West Virginia to Maryland in support of MARC would be “more impactful.”

As originally introduced, Senate Bill 103 contained provisions for the state to give CSX Transportation a tax credit for not billing the Maryland-run commuter rail service.

“I was concerned that if we gave a tax break to CSX ... how long would Maryland remember that,” said Unger, who added that he spoke to Tomblin about making a direct appropriation.

While money might not be available to immediately put in this year’s budget in support of the rail service, Unger, who is the Senate’s majority leader, said the new funding mechanism provides flexibility in that the commuter train service could be supported through a supplemental appropriation.

While the city of Martinsburg owns and maintains its train station and the West Virginia State Rail Authority maintains the other two stations in Jefferson County, the state currently does not allocate money toward MARC’s operation.

State Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, said Wednesday he was happy with the amended bill because it explicitly puts MARC into state code and requires an interstate agreement between Maryland and West Virginia. 

“I wasn’t wed to the tax credit,” said Snyder, who was the bill’s lead sponsor.

In other legislative action Saturday, the following bills sponsored by Eastern Panhandle lawmakers were sent to Tomblin after the Senate concurred with House amendments:

• Senate Bill 596, which passed the House on Friday with a technical amendment by a 97-2 vote, provides up to $100 million for public sewer treatment plant upgrades to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup requirements in eastern West Virginia. The legislation was requested by Tomblin.

• Senate Bill 663, which passed the House with technical amendments by a 89-9 vote, creates the West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act.

The bill, sponsored by Unger, aims to provide free and nutritious breakfasts and lunches to all students in public schools, and requires all schools to try to maximize school meal participation in order to take greater advantage of federal money for meals. The bill also sets up foundations in every county that are to collect private donations to fund expanded meal programs.

Among those who voted against the bill were Berkeley County Republican Dels. Mike Folk, Eric Householder, Kump and John Overington, and Del. Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan.

• Senate Bill 82, which passed the House by a 98-0 vote, requires at least one rate-paying residential customer be part of a public utility board’s membership. The House amended the legislation sponsored by Snyder to also allow for public service district board members to be paid more for each meeting they attend.

Unger and Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley/Morgan/Hampshire/Mineral, joined Snyder in sponsoring the bill.

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