CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A state-funded roadside assistance program would be eliminated under legislation the West Virginia House of Delegates passed Tuesday.
The bill passed on a 58-41 vote following a spirited debate and now moves to the state Senate.
Several delegates spoke in favor of and against the bill, which would transfer the at least $4 million that now pays a nonprofit group to operate the Courtesy Patrol into a Division of Highways fund for road repairs.
Some opponents called the bill a job killer and said the amount saved is tiny compared to the cuts the state requires to balance its budget. McDowell County Democrat Ed Evans said Courtesy Patrol drivers are “the ears and the eyes of the roadway” and even have administered medical assistance dozens of times, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The Courtesy Patrol has 72 drivers, 36 pickup trucks and more than a dozen administrative positions. It operates 16 hours each day, mostly in the evening and overnight hours. In addition to helping stranded motorists, workers remove hazards such as dead deer from roadways.
“Everything we do costs money, I understand that,” Evans said. “But you know what? I look at this cost a different way. It’s going to cost families their health insurance and it’s going to cost them their livelihoods.”
But bill co-sponsor Marty Gearheart, a Mercer County Republican, and Berkeley County Republican Marshall Wilson argued that it wasn’t the government’s responsibility to provide people with jobs.
“What we do is we protect your liberties,” Wilson said. “You build the economy. You start the businesses and we stay out of your pockets. That’s the way I understand it.”
Gearhart said redirecting Courtesy Patrol funds to help fix roads “is within our role of state government.” He noted most people carry cellphones in their vehicles and can call someone they know for help instead.
Harrison County Republican Danny Hamrick said difficult budget decisions need to be made for the upcoming fiscal year. He said he pays $3 every month on his automobile insurance for a roadside service offering the same assistance.
The state’s annual contract for the Courtesy Patrol is with Beckley-based Citizens Conservations Corps of West Virginia. The contract ends in May.
Wood County Republican John Kelly said he experienced a tire blowout while driving four years ago and “it was pretty refreshing when that white truck and yellow lights pulled up behind my vehicle.”
Braxton County Democrat Brent Boggs said without the Courtesy Patrol’s help, drivers put themselves at risk.
“In this day and time, there’s a lot of people concerned about not only pulling over to help someone, but who might be pulling over to help you,” Boggs said.