ATLANTA -- West Virginia's Senate yesterday approved legislation authorizing up to $150 million of tax-exempt lease revenue bonds to pay for cleaning up waste disposal sites throughout the state.
The bond authorization is part of a more comprehensive bill approved by senators yesterday that would also tighten and streamline the regulations governing solid waste management, said Evelyn Moore, clerk of the Senate Finance Committee.
"Rewriting the laws governing garbage disposal is something we have been working on for some time now, because when you have as many open open-air dumps as we do it becomes a real environmental issue," Ms. Moore said yesterday. "The senators felt the bond approach would provide the best funding mechanism."
The Senate bill stipulates that the cleanup bonds would be issued by the state's Water Development Authority, with the cleanup administered by the Division of Natural Resources, the legislative official said.
Debt service would be covered by a per-ton fee charged on waste disposal. Currently that charge is $2.75 per ton for waste processed within its designated regional disposal area, or $3.75 per ton for waste dumped outside that designated area. Under the Senate bill, $4 per ton would be added to the waste disposal charge, and $2 per ton would be collected to fund waste recycling. Together, Ms. Moor said, these fees would generate about $10 million a year.
Ms. Moore noted, however, that the Senate's waste disposal plan differs from that of the state's House of Representatives, which passed its own waste plan yesterday that did not include provisions for bond financing of waste cleanup.
"The House has a pay-as-you-go program," said Michael McThomas, counsel to the house Judiciary Committee. For the first year of the program, Mr. McThomas said, $1 per ton would be added to waste disposal charges to pay for a cleanup program. Those charges would be increased by $1 per ton each year, to $3 per ton.
Mr. McThomas said the House did agree to add to the bond authorization of the state's Solid Waste Management Board to raise that authorization to $150 million from $50 million to fund new waste disposal programs. Under the Senate bill, authorization for the Solid Waste Management Board authorization would be increased by $50 million, according to a Senate aide.
Mr. McThomas said the differences between the House and Senate waste bills would have to be worked out in a joint conference committee.
The final bill must then go before Gov. Gaston Caperton, whose version of the measure corresponds more closely with the House legislation. Aides to the governor were not available for comment.
The Senate's approach to financing waste cleanup resembles that taken by the state in funding its recent regional jail expansion program, Ms. Moore said. In December a $119 millin lease revenue bond issue was sold for the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, with the borrowing backed by an increase in court fees.
Lawmakers have been meeting in a special session since Sept. 30 to consider the state's hazardous waste problems and a number of other topics, including reorganization of the state Department of Energy and redrawing congressional districts.
If the Senate's solid waste bond authorization becomes law, it would add to a flurry of new financing initiatives that have been pursued in West Virginia in the past several years.
Besides revitalizing the regional jail authority, state lawmakers have also in the last two years established a school building authority which has sold about $300 million in lease bonds backed by annual legislative general fund appropriations.
But West Virginia has also recently moved to reduce its debt burden. In July, it announced plans to pay off on Oct. 1 a $259 million revenue bond issue sold in 1986 to cover a loan from the federal government to pay the unemployment claims of out-of-work West Virginians. At the time, the state was unable to cover its portion of those benefits.
In addition to the jail and school building borrowings, West Virginia has accumulated about $470 million of general obligation debt, $220 million of revenue bonds, and $150 million of short-term debt. The Water Development Authority has about $150 million of debt outstanding. The state's GOs are rated A1 by Moody's Investors Service and A-plus by Standard & Poor's Corp.